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Co-op with New Brighton helps Freedom girls win 2nd straight section title

October 3, 2018
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Freedom's Taylor Petroff carries the ball upfield during a game against Steel Valley on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016, at Freedom High School.

Freedom, last year’s Section 1-A girls soccer champion, formed a co-op with the section’s 2015 runner-up, New Brighton, before the 2016 season. The result was, predictably, another section title.

Sophomore Myla Sharpless scored two goals and added two assists, and another sophomore, Michaela Watkins, added a goal and an assist as top-ranked Freedom defeated Steel Valley, 6-1, on Monday night to improve to 10-0 in Section 1-AA and 15-0 overall.

“It’s amazing,” said junior Taylor Petroff of earning at least a share of the Section 1-AA title. “We kind of expected it when we were merged with New Brighton — a powerhouse — and merged the two best teams in the section from last year.

“We fought for it, we wanted it and we got it.”

With two section games remaining, there is little to worry about for coach Colin Williams. His team has a two-game lead over Beaver with two games to play, has meshed the talents of two programs — Lyndsee Monac, Paige Murray and Watkins are the team’s three starters who played for New Brighton last year, Williams said — and has smothered opposing offenses.

The Bulldogs have 10 shutouts and allowed two goals — a season high — just once.

Steel Valley’s lone goal Monday night was the first goal since Sept. 22 scored against the Bulldogs and their defense of freshman Myah Hrinko, sophomores Chloe Keller and Taylor Greene, junior Jordan Hartle and junior goalkeeper Jacklyn Hartle.

One-sided affairs have been regular for Freedom. They also are a rare cause for concern for Williams, who knows tougher competition awaits in the WPIAL Class AA playoffs.

“I try to stress that more and more. ‘Are we in a weak division, or are we dominating the division because we’re playing well?’ Because we don’t always play well,” said Williams, who also coaches the Freedom boys program. “It’s tough when the girls know they’re going to win, but we consistently tell them, ‘We may not come across teams like this when we move forward,’ and we’ve got to be conscious of that.”

To Williams’ benefit, he knows the Bulldogs are able to adapt. In a preseason scrimmage, his leading scorer from 2015, senior forward Alexa Schwab, went down with a broken toe.

He was worried at the prospect of having to replace 37 goals — Williams said Schwab might be available for the playoffs — but found able scorers in Watkins and Sharpless, who lead the team with 20 and 19 goals, respectively. Eight Freedom players have scored two or more goals this season.

“As a team, we’re always passing the ball, moving it around. It’s not an individual thing as much as a team thing, and I think that’s a pretty big part of it,” Sharpless said. “I think we mesh really well.”

A preseason influx of players gave Williams more options. He said he is fortunate the added talent bred collaboration on the field.

“I’ve got six girls at any one time that can score. Not only that, but they work together to do it,” Williams said. “It’s not a question of them taking the ball and going off on their own.”

Andrew Erickson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aerickson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @AErickson_Trib.

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