The District 10 champion Hickory and Wilmington girls soccer teams open action in the PIAA State Tournament today.

The Class 2A Lady Hornets of Coach B.J. Rudge will take on Juniata, the District 6 runner-up, at 5 p.m. at Slippery Rock High stadium, while Wilmington, the D-10 Class A winner, will make the long trek to Hollidaysburg High to face District 6 champ Bishop Guilfoyle.

In the D-10 finals, Hickory edged Mercyhurst Prep, 2-1, while Wilmington blanked Seneca, 4-0.

Class 2A

Hickory vs. Juniata

“Back in the preseason the girls had high expectations. This is not a big surprise, but the girls recognize how hard it is to get here,” acknowledged 13th-year Lady Hornets’ headmaster Rudge (180-51-9). “I’m confident, but as with any coach you have to evaluate your opponent.

“But,” Rudge emphasized, “at this stage you have to trust in what got you here.”

Rudge cited his seniors: Lauren Bell, Marissa DeJulia, Briana McGowan, Riley McConnell, Gia Pascarella, Evita Scoccia and Zainab Razzak.

“It’s kind’ve their team now. This senior group, they’re the leaders, whereas before they were the young kids. But they’ve done a great job in keeping us relaxed and calm and having fun at practices.”

“But there’s more a sense of urgency when you know your career’s coming to an end,” Rudge noted. “I’m just excited being able to enjoy watching this senior class take the lead and elevate the play of the team.”

Lauren Bell, the all-time leading scorer in District 10 history with 53 goals this season alone, leads the Lady Hornets.

Bell, who has 179 career goals – 5th-best in PIAA annals – set the school’s single-season record (53) by firing in 3 goals against Harbor Creek in a 5-0 win in the D-10 semifinals. The previous record of 51 was held by Hickory’s Allison Richards.

Hickory goalie Molly Piso tied a school record in that same match by recording her 15th shutout. She is tied with Morgan McBride, who graduated last season.

Hickory (18-2-1), the Region 2 champion, had an opt-out in the 1st round of the D-10 playoffs, routed Slippery Rock (7-0) in the quarterfinals, humbled Harbor Creek in the semis before defeating Region 4 champ Mercyhurst Prep (2-1) in the championship match at the Cathedral Prep-Villa Events Center (Dollinger Field). Natalie Bell and Marissa DeJulia scored for Hickory and Emily Maurer had an assist. Piso was credited with 5 saves between the pipes.

This is the second District 10 championship for Rudge, who coached the Lady Hornets to the 2013 crown. He is now 2-1 in career D-10 title tilts.

“The thing that’s been most impressive in this postseason is how these girls have been elevating their game,” Rudge praised. “The girls have bought in ... they’re facing the challenge and other players have stepped up. That’s been our whole team concept: Everyone knows their role, but also that every time out someone else can step up and be a difference-maker.”  

Rudge, regarding Lauren Bell, said, “She may not have been one of our goal-scorers (against Prep), but she set other players up. She was drawing attention. Her presence on that field raised the level of every other player around her.

“The thing I’ve always admired about Lauren,” Rudge related, “is it’s not whether she scores or not, but what she can do to help her team be successful.”

Today’s Hickory starters: Midfielders – Jessica White, sophomore; DeJulia and Pascarella; Defenders – McGowan; Gianna Cataloni, sophomore; and McConnell; Forwards – Lauren Bell; Natalie Bell, sophomore; Scoccia; Emily Maurer, junior; Goalkeeper – Piso.

Other varsity team members include: Razzak, Emma Schnolis, Kaitlyn O’Kresik, Gabby Cataloni, Carla Murtha, Kylie Thompson, Jacquelyn Smith, Allison Sanford, Taylor Mears and Logan Davis. 

Juniata (15-8-1) suffered a 3-2 loss to Bedford in the D-6 title match at Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona. Josie Swartz and Sydney Sheaffer gave Juniata a quick 2-0 lead in the 1st half, but Bedford (21-0) rallied to capture its first-ever district championship. Mahala Laub is Juniata’s starting goaltender.

“You don’t get to this point without having skills,” Rudge reasoned regarding Juniata, noting, “This team seems to want to use its speed in sending the ball and getting into its offense.”

The winner of today’s match advances to Saturday’s state quarterfinals to play the winner between D-9 champion Karns City and WPIAL runner-up Freeport. Those teams play at 8 p.m. tonight at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

“We’re hoping to get through (today’s match), but we can’t worry about the next stage,” Rudge admitted, though quickly adding, “These girls have the potential to go farther than any team before them. But I’ve told them, ‘You have to focus on making the play right in front of you.’

“What works for us is our strengths, it’s more our focus, than necessarily concentrating on what we can change (about an opponent). If we stay true to what got us to where we’re at, we’ll be fine.”

What got the Lady Hornets here are “some set plays and corner kicks,” Rudge related. “In the postseason we’re gotten three or four goals off set plays, adding that extra dimension to try to create more scoring opportunities for our team.”

Hickory had a great run a couple seasons ago, Rudge recalled, but he acknowledges his Lady Hornets have to seize the moment.

“I’m excited for the girls! I’ve talked to them about ‘How many people would love to be in your spot?’

“They recognize they’ve worked hard and earned the right to be here, but I’ve told them to just focus on the journey and enjoy it and be thankful for the opportunity,” Rudge related. “We’re all grateful for where we are, and if we stay faithful to what got us to this point, we’re going to be fine (today).”

Notes: Hickory’s last postseason statewide stage spree included a win over Moon Township, then an Elite Eight loss to Central Valley. ... Joining Rudge on the Hornets’ coaching staff are Andrew Levitt, Caitlyn Bleggi, Doug Orendi and Bob O’Kresik. – Herald Sports Editor Lynn Saternow contributed research for this preview.

Class 1A

Wilmington vs. Bishop Guilfoyle

Coach Ben Bailey’s Region 1 champion Lady Hounds (16-3-1) rolled past Seneca, 4-0, for the District 10 title at Edinboro University. Mackenzie Smith and Leann Wynder had 2 goals each and Katie Hahn had an assist. Lady Greyhounds’ goalkeeper Grace McGinnis notched the shutout.

Wilmington has won 5 District 10 championships since Region 1 was formed 7 years ago. Earlier in the tourney Wilmington drew an opening-round bye, then beat Maplewood (9-0) and Iroquois (7-1).

Seneca, the Region 3 champ, had won 18 straight matches. The Lady Bobcats were playing for their first-ever district crown.

Wilmington roster:

Midfielders – Hahn, junior; Ellie Pusateri, soph.; Emelia Labbiento, freshman.; Elizabeth Boyd, soph.; Madelyn Hill, junior; Lena Welker, soph.; Hannah Lockhart, freshman; Wynder, senior. Defenders – Jessica Huff, soph.; Savannah Gerstnecker, senior; Sara Ruth, freshman; Elizabeth Ferrante, senior; Emily Styer, senior; Lara Gassman, soph.; Logan Pieri, senior; Emily Wilson, senior; Haley Boyle, junior. Forwards – Meredith Glavach, freshman; Madison Trott, junior; Megan Mitchell, junior; Evi Ciafre, junior; Mackenzie Smith, senior. Goalies – McGinnis, junior; Ashton Mickle, soph.

Bishop Guilfoyle (14-3-1) beat Bishop McCort, 4-0, for the District 6 championship. It was the 3rd straight district crown for the Lady Marauders. 

Jordan DeLeo, Delaney Myrick, Maggie Nosek and Alana Hallinan scored goals for BG. Devyn Yingling posted the shutout in goal.

Notes: Bailey’s assistant coaches are Tim Shelenberger, Holly Lovich and Kaillie Marshall. ... the winner of the Wilmington-Guilfoyle match will play in the PIAA quarterfinals on Saturday against the winner of WPIAL (D-7) champion Shady Side Academy and District 9 runner-up DuBois Central Catholic, which is slated for 6 p.m. today at Hampton High in Allison Park.

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