Trib Cup: Moon girls soccer captured program's first state title
Bill Pfeifer made the long trek to the back of the school bus as his Moon girls soccer team made the journey home after losing to Mars, 2-1, in the WPIAL Class AA championship.
Little did he know that a 15-foot walk would serve as the catalyst for what would lead to a state championship title.
“It got them in the right frame of mind that the season wasn't over,” Pfeifer said. “I wanted the girls to know there was more out there for them in the big picture.
“I wanted them to know I believed in them and was proud of them and that it's not every day that teams even get to the WPIAL title game.”
Moon rebounded from the WPIAL championship loss to reach the state title game and defeat Archbishop Wood, 1-0, and finish the season with a 24-2 record. The Tigers' rise from agony to utter elation in a two-week span is a reason why Moon is ranked seventh in Class AAAA in this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award standings.
Pfeifer's words resonated throughout the then-gloomy passengers on that bus ride. One of the team's best offensive players, senior Antonia Grese, took Pfeifer's words to heart and immediately saw her teammates' spirits lifted.
“I'll never forget when he sat right next to me and said ‘Do you guys want to quit now or do you want to use this as motivation?' ” said Grese, a 29-goal scorer. “I think we answered that in the next practice. We were sad, but we practiced harder than ever. We never wanted to feel like that again.”
For the next two weeks, the Tigers endured upbeat, physical practices and a dominant state playoff run in which they outscored the opposition, 12-1, en route to the program's first state crown.
“We never wanted to feel the way we did after WPIALs, and I think that's the mentality we had in every practice and game,” Grese said. “This is the best way to end the season … to end anything, actually, for all the seniors on the team.
“You can't get any better than state champs.”
This season, the stingy Tigers defense was led by seniors Christine Barthen and Michaela Gutierrez as well as outside backs Katie Valach and junior Sydney Schipani, who teamed with goalkeeper Nicole Falcione. Gutierrez was moved to the center back position after Kelsea Schoeneweis suffered a broken leg in the final regular-season game.
Senior midfielders Marissa Clough and Taylor Dornin played key roles down the stretch and were matched up against several all-district players throughout the state tournament.
“It was really a once-in-a-lifetime thing for the kids this year,” Pfeifer said. “When we came back to the school from Hershey, we had fire trucks and police cars escort us to the school, and there had to be a thousand people waiting for us.
“It's something they'll never forget playing for your community. The smiles on their faces was amazing.”
Besides all the wins and accolades on the field, what impressed Pfeifer most came earlier this week when he reviewed all of the girls' report cards. Sixteen players finished with grade point averages of 4.0 or better for the fall semester, and the overall team GPA was 3.7.
“They don't like doing just well,” Pfeifer said. “Whatever they do in life, they're going to do well. I couldn't be prouder of these kids.
“They like to be challenged. They don't like to be told no.”
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.