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Butler girls soccer continues rebuilding

| Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Under second-year coach Steve Perri, the Butler girls soccer team finished with its first winning season in eight years.

It was one small step for the Butler girls soccer team, but not the giant leap the Golden Tornado wanted.

Butler (8-7-2) finished the fall with its first winning season in eight years. Yet, the squad just missed out on qualifying for the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs — a goal second-year head coach Steve Perri hoped to achieve this year.

“I think all of the players and coaches leave this year thinking the step we took was great. We didn't want to just take a step. We wanted to take a leap. I wish the seniors could have experienced that,” he said.

“Things are headed in the right direction.”

The Tornado last advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs in 2003. That year, the squad fell in the WPIAL semifinals and dropped a 1-0 decision to Owen J. Roberts in the PIAA title game.

Since then, the program has struggled. Before Perri took over last fall, Butler went a combined 3-30 — including 0-24 in section play — in 2010 and '11. The team started its turnaround last year and finished 8-8-1 overall and 3-8-1 in the section.

This fall, the Tornado achieved the winning record and narrowly missed the playoffs by two games. Butler finished fifth in Section 2-AAA behind Hampton (6-6) and Pine-Richland (7-4-1). North Allegheny and Seneca Valley both wound up atop the standings at 10-1-1. One goal decided four of the Tornado's section losses.

“We were competitive in every game,” Perri said. “There's only one game I can look back on and say we wouldn't have had a chance of winning. I am sure in years past, that couldn't be said. Really, if a couple of balls bounce our way in a couple of games, we would be in the playoffs.”

Butler's improvement showed, especially at the end of the season. The team closed the year with a 2-0-1 run, which included wins over Hampton and Shaler and a tie against Seneca Valley, which boosted the team's confidence.

“Not only was the Seneca Valley game our last home game, but it was against a rival. We were winning most of that game until about eight minutes left when we gave up a goal,” Perri said. “That result there will propel this team and the returning girls further than any other game.”

The Tornado graduates four seniors — Macy Stalnaker, Rachael Weyand, Tiffany Stewart and Angela McKnight. Stalnaker led Butler with 14 goals.

“Losing her will hurt. We'll need someone to take over that role. We'll have to have someone step up,” Perri said. “We will miss our seniors.”

Other than Weyand, all of Butler's defense returns. The team started three freshmen most of the year on the backline in Rachael Woessner, Maddie Glew and Skyler Denniston. Junior Mackenzie Troyan played the majority of minutes in goal, and sophomore Hannah Miller saw action as well.

Carolyn Stirling, a junior, and sophomore Chloe Bowser return at midfielder. Sophomore Kayla Widenhofer is back at forward.

“One difference between last year and this is that we were deeper this year. I had more options and depth and that allowed us to do a lot better also,” Perri said. “At times, I started five freshmen.”

It's difficult for young teams to compete in Butler's section, which is annually one of the toughest.

“Coaches in our section talk about the third- or fourth-place teams being better than some second-place teams from other sections. It is definitely a tough section,” Perri said.

“But we have to get through it. In the end, it only makes our section teams stronger.”

Perri is excited to see the program make positive gains.

“These little steps we're taking, we're getting through. It's the start of something bigger. I think this is the start of a good, long run here,” he said. “Even the younger people are interested and invested in this program and are doing what needs to be done for it.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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