Pennridge will face North Allegheny in the PIAA 4A state title game at HersheyPark Stadium on Saturday at 4 p.m. Check back for a complete recap of the game.
It’s a hashtag that has become the mantra of the Pennridge girls’ soccer squad this fall, and if ever a team has lived out its hashtag, this Rams’ team certainly has.
In a season when no one knew if their first game might be their last or if there would even be a first game, the Rams found a way to turn the season that almost wasn’t into their own incredible journey. A journey that will end on Saturday in Hershey in the PIAA 4A state title game against North Allegheny.
“Our goal was – we’re going to win as many games as we can in the time that they give us, #MakeItCount,” coach Audrey Anderson said. “The fact that we’re playing in a state championship in this season of these poor kids not knowing if they were going to school, if they get to come to practice – there were so many challenges.
“It’s funny that the ending of this season is going to be at Hershey, the sweetest place on earth.”
On an unseasonably cold fall day on Wednesday – less than 24 hours after their team’s emotional 4-3 overtime win over District 11 champion Parkland in the state semifinals, seniors Lindsey DeHaven and Cady McKean as well as junior Sierra Shaeffer are in the team room after practice.
Memories of their previous night’s win are still fresh in their minds.
“I get chills thinking about it,” Shaeffer said of a win that saw the Rams twice rally from behind, including late in regulation. “When that goal (the game-winner by freshman Liv Grenda) went in, I don’t remember anything else.”
DeHaven couldn’t hold back her tears of joy.
“I felt embarrassed I actually cried - I was bawling my eyes out,” the senior captain said with a laugh. “I was just overcome with emotion, especially how that game ended up. We could have lost so many times, and it’s crazy how it ended like that.”
“It still hasn’t really hit me yet,” McKean said. “I feel like I’m in a dream. I feel like our hard work paid off, and I’m really excited for Saturday.”
The players acknowledged that the uncertainty surrounding their season with the COVID-19 pandemic changed everyone’s perspective.
“With it being a shortened season and us having a goal of making it to Hershey, we knew every single game we lost was going to hurt the outcome of districts and states,” DeHaven said. “That definitely changed our mentality, knowing we could get shut down the next day right after we played a game and it was just over. I think it made everyone work 10 times harder to keep it going.”
It’s interesting that a team with that lost four starters from last year’s district championship squad to graduation as well as senior Ashley Gordon to year-round track was talking about Hershey.
Throw in the fact that the Rams lost senior captains Emily Kriney and Maddie Angelo to season-ending injuries, and it would be understandable if the team lowered their expectations. But according to the players, Hershey is a goal every year for a Ram squad that is making the trip to ChocolateTown for the second time in three years.
This year’s trip, however, was much more unlikely by even the players’ admission.
“I think coming in knowing how young the team was going to be – I think that was really nerveracking, and with the less time that we had, I thought it was going to take a lot for us to get to know each other and be able to play with each other,” McKean said. “That was really scary. I had no idea how it would turn out.”
“It’s kind of crazy to think – we had a whole new team, and at that point, we didn’t have a goalie,” DeHaven said.
That’s when Shaeffer came to the rescue.
“She knew we had a hole, and she was willing to step in,” Anderson said.
Shaeffer has been outstanding in goal, although she was an unlikely candidate. Last year this time she was completing her sophomore season as a midfielder for the Rams’ jayvee.
“I played keeper four years ago,” Shaeffer said. “It was kind of competitively, so I had experience. I knew there wasn’t really anyone else, and I said, ‘I’ll play.’
“I honestly thought somebody else was going to come up maybe. I didn’t think it was actually going to happen, but my team is so supportive, so it makes it a lot easier.”
“It was crazy how she stepped in like that,” DeHaven said. “Now looking back, I wouldn’t want anyone else but Sierra.”
This Rams’ squad is an advertisement for the overused ‘next player up’ phrase.
“Honestly, I thought we would be okay this year, I thought we would get into the playoffs, but you never know with freshmen how much they can handle, especially with the expectations of Pennridge soccer,” Anderson said. “Are they going to be too high for the freshmen? What’s our leadership going to be like on the field?
“So many questions got answered after our CB South game when Emily Kriney got hurt. You could see the sadness in her eyes. She wanted so badly for the season to happen because she wants to play. For Emily to tear her ACL and other players to step up in that role, I figured from that moment – we’re going to be a hard team to beat.”
And the Rams have certainly been a hard team to beat, dropping their only game of the season to Central Bucks West (2-1) on Oct. 15. They have won eight straight since then, and what admittedly seemed like a pipe dream in the heat of summer workouts has become a reality.
Pennridge will be playing for a state title in Hershey on Saturday, the singular goal of this remarkable team even when it seemed improbable.
“It’s what we say every single time during preseason, the thing we put out there and work towards,” DeHaven said of the trip to Hershey. “You say it – it might be a long-reaching goal, but when you start your season and you get into districts and states, you’re like, ‘All right, we can actually do this. It’s right there.’”
To achieve their goal, it obviously took a whole lot more than just talk. It took hard work, lots and lots of hard work. The players began offseason workouts in mid-June, practicing twice a week, and in mid-August the five-week preseason began.
“Obviously, it was a big question mark if we were going to play,” DeHaven said. “I think coming in we knew the legacy of Pennridge is always a pretty good team. I think, speaking for me, we were a little bit scared to keep that legacy going. It was a little nerveracking not knowing if we would be this good team. We had to work really hard in preseason to maintain this legacy and keep it going.”
“We definitely put in a lot of hard work and a lot of hours getting to where we are,” Shaeffer said. “Especially knowing this would be a season we’d remember – we might as well play and work hard for whatever we have because we never know when it could end.”
Added McKean, “During preseason, we all were like - wow, this is a lot of work for a season we didn’t even know if it was going to happen, but I think we had the idea it would happen, and we just worked every day to try and create something.”
And create something the Rams did, building a bond that makes this team – with nine seniors providing the nucleus - feel a whole lot like family.
“We really had five weeks of preseason, and I think that’s where we built this whole family around this team,” DeHaven said. “Our hashtag ‘make it count’ is our little mantra.
“Especially with COVID, we didn’t know when we would get shut down, so we just knew we had to make every single, game, practice and time together count, and I think that’s what really brought this team together knowing any single time could be our last time.”
Listening to Shaeffer, a newcomer to the varsity, tell it, this was a welcoming team, a welcome that extended to all grades on a squad that starts four freshmen and whose first sub is a freshman.
“I think we were all very friendly – not that people aren’t friendly but you could come up to your captains, you could come up to the seniors and you felt comfortable with everyone,” the junior goalkeeper said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshmen – it seemed like everyone was the same.”
“Aud gave us a tough preseason,” McKean said. “So I think that also bonded us – we have to stick together to get through this and make this season worth it.”
Since stepping on the field in August, the Rams have lived by their mantra, making every moment count and then some.
“We’ve been talking about it all season from when we were allowed to start preseason – ‘Hey, make the most of it. We don’t even know if we’re going to have a season,’” Anderson said. “Being Pennridge, you feel like you have to be ready to go right out of the gate. There’s really no bumps in the road allowed because teams will make you pay in our conference.”
Pennridge – which survived every bump in its path - will face District 7 champion North Allegheny on Saturday (4 p.m.) at HersheyPark Stadium.
“We finally made it after we’ve been saying it for three months,” DeHaven said. “After that last game especially, we know we have it in us to take it home.”