By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
One of Dani Ard's keeper jerseys has "PHANTOM" emblazoned across the back in the space typically reserved for a player's surname.
It suits her, and not solely because of the "Danny Phantom" cartoon. One moment you see the Mifflinburg senior stalking the front of the cage, and the next she'll appear some 15, 20 feet away, challenging an attack.
Drives spectators nuts -- on both sides. Wildcats fans bury the anxiety needle when Ard leaves the cage unattended; opponents feverishly clamor for an extra pass to capitalize on a wide-open goal.
Then, in an instant, Ard shifts the dynamic with a kick clear. The Mifflinburg faithful cheer wildly, while the opponents (players and fans alike) are left frustrated.
If leaving her line is some kind of psychological tactic, though, Ard isn't telling.
"Sometimes I find that if I pressure the ball I don't necessarily have to make a save," she said.
Hard to argue because it's working. Ard led the Wildcats to their first Heartland Athletic Conference Division I championship with nine shutouts among the team's 14 wins. She has 32 career shutouts entering the District 4 Class AA playoffs, which begin today with two preliminary games.
Seventh-seeded Lewisburg (10-7-1) hosts No. 10 Muncy (9-9), while No. 9 Shikellamy (9-8-1) visits No. 8 Midd-West (10-8). Both games begin at 4 p.m.
The quarterfinal round is Thursday, with the top four seeds hosting 4 p.m. games. Mifflinburg (14-4), seeded third, plays No. 6 Central Columbia, and you can bet Blue Jays coach Bridget Mathias knows about Ard's penchant for playing in space. Word like that -- a potential game-changing advantage -- travels fast.
The reason it's no secret is first-year Wildcats coach Jayme Longacre, like her predecessor Ann Beckley, has no issue with Ard's style. Longacre realizes it produces anxious moments, but they're typically just that and not goal-scoring plays.