Freedom girls soccer sets sights on WPIAL, PIAA titles
Freedom has flourished as a top-tier program in girls soccer.
Section championships and deep playoff runs have become the norm for the Bulldogs in recent years.
Over the past four seasons, Freedom has won three consecutive section titles, was a WPIAL finalist three times, and has captured one WPIAL crown.
The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs were a combined 39-3 over the past two seasons (20-1 in 2016; 19-2 in 2017), and are well on their way to another section title with an 8-0 record in Section 3-A.
“The girls have continued where they left off last year,” coach Colin Williams said. “Even though we lost a few excellent players, what we picked up was not a surprise to us. Several freshman ladies stepped into their roles with accelerated performances.
“Obviously, our goal, with a little good fortune, is to take state honors. We feel confident that both the WPIAL’s and state’s top positions are within our reach.”
Freedom, 9-1 overall and ranked second in Class A, started out 5-0 and is riding a four-game winning streak following a 10-0 section win Monday against South Side Beaver.
The Bulldogs have outscored the opposition 71-4 in eight section games, and 86-8 overall. They have won 38 section games in a row over four seasons, and haven’t lost in section play since Sept. 23, 2015.
Freedom has a comfortable lead over Riverside (4-1-3), Quigley Catholic (5-3-1), Mohawk (4-3-1) and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (5-4) in Section 3-A.
“We have five four-year starters and two juniors who are third-year starters,” said Williams, who also coaches Freedom’s boys team. “Should we be fortunate enough to go through our section games with all wins, it will be three years (in a row) that we have won every game in our section.”
Williams is in his fifth season with the girls and third with the boys. Freedom is 77-20-2 in girls soccer since 2014.
“My career as a high school coach has included Seneca Valley, West Allegheny and Freedom over many years,” said Williams, a semi-retired engineer. “I have always been fortunate to have very successful seasons, many times while simultaneously coaching boys and girls club teams. This has helped me to blend different levels.
“After 50-plus years in this game, I know it well and coach in a way the kids seem to get it. The school and the AD have also been extremely helpful, insuring the scheduling all works.”
Offensive catalysts for the Bulldogs have been senior forward Michaela Watkins and freshman forward Jayden Sharpless.
Sharpless leads the team in scoring with 29 goals and 15 assists, followed by Watkins with 14 goals and five assists.
“Michaela and Jayden are certainly on the forefront of our success,” Williams said, “but with several other seniors and freshmen, we have yet to be contained in our section.
“Michaela, I feel, hasn’t yet come into her own. I am looking forward to her second half of the season. Jayden possesses excellent forward skills, and is very difficult to defend.”
Watkins helped Freedom win the WPIAL Class AA title in 2016, and followed it up with a 40-goal performance for the WPIAL runner-up Bulldogs last season.
She has a 4.2 GPA, and is involved with the Interact, Ushers and Lioness clubs. And she has landed an athletic scholarship to Youngstown State, where she will continue her soccer career while majoring in nursing.
“We have been doing very well this season,” Watkins said. “We are still undefeated in the section. My season is going good, as well. I continue to try to help out the team as best as I can. We have a ton of goal scorers and players who are capable of controlling the ball in our attack.”
Watkins is a two-sport athlete at Freedom. She was a member of the girls track program in 2017.
Watkins plans to attend graduate school and eventually become a nurse practitioner.
Freedom’s senior goalkeeper, Kassandra DePoppe, has posted four shutouts and five one-goal games this year behind a stellar defensive corps consisting of seniors Olivia Wolf and Taylor Greene, junior Sydney Cook and freshman Isabella Lowe.
The starters at midfield are seniors Chloe Keller and Alexsia Barlamas, junior Myah Hrinko and freshman Renae Mohrbacher.
Mohrbacher owns 11 goals and six assists while Keller has 11 goals and two assists. Barlamas, who’s been drawing college interest, has netted nine goals and 10 assists.
Senior midfielder and Florida Atlantic recruit Myla Sharpless has returned to the lineup after sitting out last season with a knee injury.
Rounding out the 2018 squad are sophomore forward Karissa Mercier, freshmen midfielders Cadence Gorajewski and Maddy Hill, plus five defensive specialists -- senior Kyrstin Mercier, sophomore Jessica Scheel, and freshmen Taylor DiMarzio, Skylar DeThomas and Grace White.
There are eight seniors and eight freshmen, along with two juniors and two sophomores, on Freedom’s team.
“I expect us to win our section,” Watkins said. “I’m hoping we can make it back to the WPIAL finals and hopefully further into the state playoffs, as we did the previous years.
“We are playing in a weak section, so I think the adjustment to playing harder teams in the playoffs will be challenging. As long as we can work together, I think we can succeed.”
The Bulldogs are scheduled to play four of their final five section games at home.