Within two weeks, four teams will be standing at HersheyPark Stadium as state champions, with gold medals around their necks.
The road to a state title for the four local teams that qualified for state tournament play will start today, four wins away from the gold.
Southern Columbia and Warrior Run qualified in the Class A girls bracket, while Lewisburg will play in the Class AA boys bracket and East Juniata will start their road in the Class A boys bracket.
In the Class A girls tournament, Southern Columbia and Warrior Run will be on the same side of the bracket in the top half, meaning a rematch of the Defenders’ 3-2 overtime win in the District 4 title game could be possible. But there will be a group of teams looking to prevent a third meeting between the Tigers and the Defenders.
Southern Columbia made a run to the state title game last season and the Tigers will face District 3 champion Trinity in the first round of this year’s tournament.
“There were several players who got substantial experience as far as the state run (last year),” Southern Columbia coach Derek Stine said. “We play very good competition throughout the year, so I think that also preps us to play in a big game like tomorrow.”
According to Stine, Southern Columbia will need to approach the game with the right mindset.
“The first thing they’ve got to do is come in with a positive attitude,” Stine said. “If they go in with a positive attitude, I think we can play with anybody.”
Christina Podpora provided a late spark for a 13-6-2 Tigers team in the District 4 title game, scoring two goals to help a strong midfield for Stine. Blair Johnston has taken charge in goal for the Tigers in her first season stopping shots, helping the Tigers in a late-season surge that included a win over Millville and Pennsylvania all-time leading scorer Maci Bower in the District 4 quarterfinals.
Warrior Run, the second state representative out of a loaded HAC-II this season, will face District 2 champion Mountain View in a first-round matchup. Coach Jen Allen has built a consistent winner with back-to-back state titles in 2010 and 2011. The Defenders (18-2-2) made a run both years after finishing as the runner-up in District 4; Allen won her first district title this season.
“After 15 years, it was our first districts. So, I think coming into the (district title) game, that was definitely motivation to make Warrior Run history again,” Warrior Run junior midfielder Rachel Grow said. “It’s really an awesome feeling (to get a district title).”
Gabby Heiss has had a breakout sophomore season defensively in front of another sophomore, Madi Welliver, in goal. While the Defenders’ back line of Heiss, Erika Landis, McKenna Beyer and Emma Burrows have been the Defenders’ calling card this season, shutting down explosive offenses, the Warrior Run forwards and midfielders can’t be taken lightly.
Junior forward Olivia George can change a game in an instant if she gets into space and Grow has shown that she can finish in traffic.
Mountain View’s Hannah Richner and Makenna Whitaker have been scoring threats for the Eagles, with each topping 15 goals this season.
Lewisburg coach Skip Kratzer has fashioned another strong season, leading his boys to a District 4 title over Midd-West to earn their spot at the state tournament table.
Lewisburg, which has amassed a 39-2 record over the past two seasons, will face Coughlin out of District 2 in the first round.
The Green Dragons have playmakers all over the field with senior Max Reed controlling the flow of the offense from the midfield and Joey Bhangdia having the ability to light up the scoreboard and flip a game around in a hurry.
While Lewisburg (20-1) can take control of a game in their offensive end, the Lewisburg defense is just as strong with Zach Kratzer leading a backline that has stopped nearly every team the Green Dragons have played this season.
The Lewisburg defense will face off against a Coughlin team averaging nearly seven goals per game, pitting strength against strength. One player to watch for Coughlin will be senior Travis Kiel, who has received interest from multiple Division I schools to play at the next level.
“They seem pretty relaxed, (in) good spirits,” Kratzer said. “Everybody seems very focused.”
With Coughlin coming in without a loss and Lewisburg riding a 20-game winning streak, Kratzer simply said, “It’s two teams accustomed to winning.”
East Juniata boys soccer has created a Tri-Valley League dynasty, winning six straight league championships, and the Tigers come into the Class A boys tournament off of a stifling defensive performance in their clinching win over Bloomsburg in districts.
“I think that was a big confidence-builder for us,” East Juniata (21-2) co-coach Don Troutman said of the District 4 championship.
Troutman said that the Tigers will need to continue their current form, adding that playing a speedy Bloomsburg team benefitted East Juniata.
“The last couple weeks, we’ve really come together,” Troutman said. “We’re going to have to defend well and we’re going to have to attack well also.”
Sophomore Clay Sheaffer has been tough to score on in goal for East Juniata, allowing the Tigers’ forwards and midfielders to get chances to score. The Tigers’ defense proved that it can keep balls out of the net when pressured in the District 4 final and the Tigers have multiple scoring options, including Jake Sankey and Trevor Goodling, to look to for goals.