When Natalie Reeder, Natalie Bennett, Emma Wood and Payton Bragalone are on the field together as part of Montoursville’s back line, they only care about one thing: not letting up a goal.
When the game’s over and they look up at the scoreboard, they expect to see a zero in the opposing team’s score.
More times than not this year so far, that’s been the case. That tough foursome are playing outstanding and do everything they can to make 80 minutes a nightmare for opposing forwards and midfielders.
“They’ve been all starting since I’ve been here and they hold everything for us,” Montoursville’s Emma Cline said.
Montoursville’s defense is as stingy as you would want your starting back line to be. Through seven games, the Warriors have conceded just three goals. And those three goals were in three games as South Williamsport, Jersey Shore and Lewisburg scored one apiece.
Against Shamokin and Loyalsock in back-to-back games in a three-day span, Montoursville not only shut both teams out 3-0 and 5-0, respectively, but did not allow a single shot.
They blanked Dallas, 1-0, on Saturday, posting yet another shutout as the back line gave up just four shots before cruising past Danville, 6-0, on Monday night.
“They just play so well together. They read each other, they hustle, they never give up. They never get beat cleanly. They’re always around the ball even when someone does get by them, they chase it down,” Montoursville coach Vic Gorini said. ” They’re just relentless. They play defense together and we’re happy to have all four of them back again this year.”
Montoursville’s defense also came up big against an undefeated Dallas team on Saturday, handing the Mountaineers their first loss on the road, 1-0.
That foursome in the back work perfectly together as a unit and take pride in the fact that they can not only shut teams down, but not allow many to get off a great shot for a goal.
“They love it. They’re defenders, they have that identity. They’re proud. When they see that zero or one in opponent’s score, that’s their score. And they’re proud of that. They’re our best kids. They don’t quit,” Gorini said. “We’re just super proud of how they play and we have to keep getting better. This is early in the season, this is a really good test for us. This was definitely our toughest test so far this year.”
“It’s everything. We love our defense. We like to depend on it,” Cline said. “We just expect it. We don’t have to worry about them getting the ball because the defense is great.”
And that’s a big reason the Warriors are sitting with a 7-0 record.
With two games remaining on Jersey Shore’s schedule in 2021, the Bulldogs traveled to Lewisburg and lost in a rout, 12-0. The Green Dragons, who went on to last year’s PIAA Class AA championship game, dominated the game and won big.
So, when some saw Jersey Shore was hosting Lewisburg this year on Sept. 15, fans may have thought another rout would ensue. But Jersey Shore had different plans.
The Bulldogs weren’t going to let another dominant performance happen and Jersey Shore played absolutely outstanding in a 2-1 narrow loss to the defending Class AA state finalists.
Talk about making a statement. While Jersey Shore lost, it still played great against a perennially solid program.
“It was a great game for us. After losing to them last year by 12 goals to show the intensity that we had this time was amazing. When Lewisburg scored the first goal right before half normally a team would get down and fall apart but we came out in the second half and kept the intensity up,” Jersey Shore coach Mitch Cornelius said. “Tough game to lose but it showed that we are here to compete this year.”
Jersey Shore tied Lewisburg in that game 1-1, making many fans in the area take notice of the Bulldogs.
Jersey Shore finished 5-13 last year and the Bulldogs have already matched their win total from 2021 with a 5-2 record so far this year.
“We have an unbelievable team commitment this year. Everyone knows their role and goes out and does a great job at it,” Cornelius said. “We may not be the most talented team, but we are the hardest working team on the pitch.”
In Jersey Shore’s five wins this year, the Bulldogs have yielded just four goals in those contests. And that’s a credit to Jersey Shore’s defense playing great.
“We played a very aggressive style of defense led by our two center backs Pete Bellomo and Isaiah Reibson. I stand by my preseason statement that we have the two best center backs in the district,” Cornelius said. “When those two have played together (Isaiah missed the Danville game), teams only scored set piece goals against us. Cameron Fishel in goal has come up with some big saves this season.”
The Bulldogs also posted two shutouts this year, blanking both Warrior Run and Towanda, and held Central Columbia, Bloomsburg and Mifflinburg to just one goal apiece.
JON GERARDI’S TOP 5 RANKINGS
1. MONTOURSVILLE (8-0): If you read my column and didn’t just jump to my rankings, you’d have seen that the Warriors have allowed just three goals so far this season and haven’t given up more than one in a game yet. That’s a credit to Natalie Reeder, Emma Wood, Natalie Bennett and Payton Bragalone on the backline. Montoursville is a tough team all around and have established themselves as one of the area’s — and District 4’s — top teams.
2. HUGHESVILLE (7-2): The Spartans’ offense has been playing as well as you’d want a team to play. Through nine games, Hughesville is among the leaders in the area with 34 goals scored. Makenzi Leitenberger and Sophia Clark each have seven goals after Monday, forming a potent 1-2 punch up top that defenses have to key on.
3. WILLIAMSPORT (6-3): Williamsport keeps battling teams in tough one-goal contests. The Millionaires beat Midd-West (1-0), Milton (1-0), Warrior Run (5-4, OT) and Hughesville (2-1) by just one goal. I wrote last week about how battle tested the Millionaires are, and it’s showing in these tight contests.
4. SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT (4-3): Some may have been questioning the Mounties this year after they started 0-2 with losses in the Burke Tournament, but since then South Williamsport is 4-1. Not to mention South has scored an impressive 43 goals this year. Prior to an 8-1 loss to a very good Central Columbia team on Saturday, the Mounties have scored at least six goals in four straight games, including scoring at least nine in each of their last three.
T-5. WARRIOR RUN (4-5): The Defenders have gone 2-2 in the last week, beating Warrior Run (3-1) and Central Mountain (7-0) and losing to Midd-West (3-0) and Bloomsburg ( 4-0). The Defenders have a talented roster and will be put to the test with some tough games coming up against Southern Columbia, Milton and Hughesville.
T-5. MILTON (3-2): Milton’s won three in a row after losing to Williamsport in its season opener, 1-0, before dropping an extremely close, good game with Hughesville on Monday night, 2-1. The Black Panthers have allowed just two goals in those three wins as well as Milton’s back line and goalie Mo Reiner have been solid.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK — Emilie Nagel, Muncy and McKaye Wilton, South Williamsport: Nagel was outstanding offensively this past week. First she recorded a hat trick in a 7-0 win over Sullivan County before scoring three goals and dishing out another two assists in a 17-0 rout of CMVT.
Wilton put up four goals in a 9-0 rout over Millville, providing a huge offensive spark for the Mounties.
1. LEWISBURG (4-0-1): Four wins, three goals against and no losses. Sounds about right for the Green Dragons. Lewisburg has been back on the winning side of things since opening the year with a draw. The Green Dragons have defeated Loyalsock (4-0), Midd-West (3-2), Shikellamy (5-0) and Jersey Shore (2-1).
2. WILLIAMSPORT (5-1): Lee Kaar has Williamsport focused on the next game on the schedule and it’s a big reason the Millionaires are 5-1. That includes a string of three straight wins against Warrior Run, Midd-West and Central Mountain. The win against Midd-West was big for the Millionaires in terms of gaining confidence going forward. Kaar joked recently that Williamsport’s schedule never gets any easier, and it’s true with games against Milton, Altoona and Danville looming.
T-3. JERSEY SHORE (5-2): Jersey Shore has already matched last year’s win total and the Bulldogs have been playing great earlier this year. Also, in Lewisburg’s five wins, Jersey Shore held Lewisburg to its least amount of goals scored so far with just two. Holding the Green Dragons to two goals is often easier said than done.
T-3. MONTOURSVILLE (5-2): Montoursville is winning close games in exciting fashion. First, Montoursville defeated Mifflinburg 3-2 in an overtime thriller last Tuesday as Mason Winslow came up with the game-winning goal. The Warriors then edged Wellsboro, 3-2, rallying back from a 2-1 deficit in the second half.
5. WELLSBORO (6-2): The Green Hornets have dropped two games in three days, but those losses have come to two good teams in both Loyalsock and Montoursville. The Lancers played well holding a potent Wellsboro offense to just two shots on goal. Coach Todd Fitch will have the Green Hornets back on the winning side.
PLAYER OF THE WEEKS — Tyler Wescott, Loyalsock and Mason Winslow, Montoursville: Wescott came up clutch against Wellsboro on Saturday. He scored the game’s first goal just five minutes into the game for an early 1-0 lead before he had a corner kick assist to put the Lancers ahead, 2-0, at the half. Wescott then scored on a penalty kick.
Winslow you could nickname Mr. Clutch after his last two games. In overtime against Mifflinburg, Winslow scored the game-winner to secure a 3-2 win. Against Wellsboro on Monday, the Warriors were down 2-1 before Winslow scored twice in five minutes to propel Montoursville to a thrilling win.
Jon Gerardi is the sports editor at the Sun-Gazette and covers high school soccer. Email comments to [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @JonGerardi.