Former Highlands teammates face off in PAC playoffs
Tuesday night was a historical one for the Chatham women’s soccer team.
The Cougars captured the first playoff victory in the history of the program and did so in dramatic fashion by defeating No. 1 seed Westminster 1-0 in the first round of the President’s Athletic Conference tournament.
The Cougars outshot the Titans 7-6 and in the 65th minute, sophomore Paxton Steffy buried a shot from the left of the penalty spot to propel her team to its landmark victory.
“It feels great, especially when you’re able to do it against a great group of women who all work very hard,” junior forward and Highlands alum Kyla Kelley said. “It feels great to be a part of making history with these girls.”
Chatham’s victory wasn’t the only special moment of the night. With a trip to the PAC championship on the line, Kelley got to square off against former Highlands teammate and friend Jocelyn Gillette.
While they both recognized the special occasion of being able to play at the collegiate level against a high school teammate, they knew that there was a lot on the line for both of them.
“It’s fun to see your old teammates, especially when you were on the same team so you had the same goal,” Gillette said. “But now you’re on different teams and we still have the same goal and that’s to win. So you just have to go out and perform.”
This wasn’t the first time Kelley and Gillette have played against each other. Since Westminster and Chatham are both in the PAC, the two former Golden Rams who helped Highlands produce a record of 12-3-3 and reach the WPIAL semifinals in their senior season have seen a lot of each other.
In the past three years, Gillette and Kelley have squared off a total of four times and Westminster had won each match before Tuesday. Just two weeks ago, the Titans bested the Cougars for the third straight year in the regular season.
Aside from the wins and losses, both players have enjoyed watching each other improve on opposite sides of the field.
“It’s a really a unique opportunity that a lot of people don’t get,” Kelley said. “It’s fun to see how the other person has grown as a player and it gives you that little extra edge of competitiveness because you know them and you’ve played them before. I mean, we grew up together, so it’s definitely a unique experience.”
Both Kelley and Gillette have been a part of special seasons. Gillette, a right back, contributed greatly to the Titans not allowing a goal and going undefeated in PAC play.
The former Highlands winger and forward said over the course of the past few years, the Titans defense has come together as a complete unit and that contributed to their success in conference play this season.
“This was our third year all together, and I think it just took some learning for us to jell and our communication,” Gillette said. “Communication is one of the most important things and we really worked on that.”
On the other side, Kelly and the Cougars will make their first PAC championship appearance in hopes of bringing home their first conference title.
“There aren’t many points in my soccer career where I’ve gotten to play in the big games,” Kelley said. “So, for me, this is very exciting, and the group of people I get to do to it with makes it even more exciting. I love this team, and that makes it even more special.”
On Saturday, Chatham will travel to Grove City to take on Grove City College for the PAC championship.
Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .