By Todd Stanford
The Daily Item
How do you keep your team focused on the journey when the end result is so tantalizing? That’s always the dilemma for coaches of teams that are expected to do great things. This season, there are two local girls teams that have had that issue: Warrior Run, which brought back all 11 starters from a team that won the Class A state championship last year, and Danville, which brought back many of its top players from a side that advanced to the state quarterfinals (Class AA) in 2010.
So, how do you keep them focused? Ironmen coach Tom Craig admits it’s been a challenge at times.
“As far as going to Hershey (site of the state final), that’s the main goal of this year’s team,” Craig says. “The bar is set pretty high.”
So high, in fact, that Craig says the girls are not really thinking about the Heartland Athletic Conference Division I crown, even though that’s still a possibility heading into the final few days of the regular season.
“They’re not really focused on the HAC-I,” Craig says. “We’re thinking about ... the main course.”
Defenders coach Jen Allen is in a similar predicament. But she says the girls have done a good job of focusing on the journey.
“We have eight or nine shutouts in a row,” she says. “I think that shows that we’ve taken it game by game and done what we need to do.”
One reason why the Defenders have done so well focusing on the here-and-now is the presence of Loyalsock in their division (the HAC-II). The Lancers, who won the state title in 2009, beat Warrior Run in two out of four meetings last season. The Defenders won the one that mattered most — earning a 3-0 victory in the PIAA semifinals — but they know Loyalsock is dangerous again this year.
“We always get excited to play that game; the girls get pumped up,” says Allen, whose side has twice tied the Lancers this year. “It’s fun to have that element, to have a team that’s a rival and is going to give you good competition.”
DIVISION RACES EXPLAINED (MAYBE): So this is how the Heartland Athletic Conference division races are looking with a few days left in the regular season.
On the girls side, Montoursville, Danville and Selinsgrove still have a shot at the HAC-I pennant. The Warriors (9-0-3) lead the race, with Selinsgrove (10-1-2) and Danville (8-1-3) close behind.
Selinsgrove hosts Montoursville today in a game that has huge implications. Should the Seals win, they would claim the title outright.
Should the Warriors win, they wouldn’t win it outright yet, but they would clinch at least a tie with Danville while eliminating Selinsgrove.
(Both Montoursville and Danville have one more league game after today). If two or more teams finish tied, they share the crown.
In the HAC-II, it’s pretty simple, As long as they both win out (and there’s no reason to think that they won’t), Warrior Run and Loyalsock will share the crown.
In boys action, Lewisburg wrapped up at least a share of the HAC-I title by beating Shikellamy on Wednesday. Should Danville lose to Selinsgrove on Saturday, then the Green Dragons would claim the title outright.
If the Ironmen beat the Seals, then they’ll be co-champions with the Green Dragons.
In the HAC-II, it’s even more clear-cut.
If Central Columbia beats Montoursville at Balls Mills today, then the Blue Jays will claim their first league championship.
— Sports reporter Todd Stanford covers high school soccer for The Daily Item.