GOING FOR GOLD
Valley West, Seminary advance to Saturday’s state finals
Woods’ late goal sends Spartans to title game.
WHITEHALL — Few players are trusted with the responsibilities handled Tuesday night by Valley West senior Madison Woods.
Playing defense, Woods and Rina Tsioles teamed up to not allow the nation’s leading scorer to find the cage.
“I always like a good challenge,” Woods said of her shared assignment against Donegal standout Mackenzie Allessie. “So I always enjoy playing against players with great skill.”
Then on offense, with everything potentially riding on a last-second penalty corner, Woods bet on herself and won big.
Cameryn Forgash dished an insert pass to Woods, who masterfully timed her shot, turning it into the only goal in Valley West’s 1-0 win against Donegal in the PIAA Class 2A field hockey semifinals.
“It’s up to Madison to decide and she picked the right one,” Valley West head coach Linda Fithian said of Woods’ decision whether to pass or shoot. “She’s such a smart player. So I give her that respect.”
The District 2 champion Spartans (18-1) return to Whitehall at noon Saturday, when they’ll play District 1 champion Villa Maria for the state championship.
The Spartans are chasing their first state title since 2003, while Villa Maria, a 5-0 winner against Twin Valley, last won it all in Class 2A in 2014 against Crestwood.
“There’s been games where I was so happy that we’ve won,” said senior goalkeeper Nikki Hartzel. “But I think, it being my senior season, I never wanted it to end. I hope that when it does end, we can end on top.”
Donegal (25-2) dominated much of the game, outshooting Valley West 10-7 and attempting 19 corners to Valley West’s seven.
But Hartzel played a spectacular first half before being replaced by sophomore Sydney Rusnock, a move made at halftime of practically every Valley West game.
“I just knew I had to do what Nikki did,” Rusnock said. “She played amazing and I just knew that we were going to win this game. I knew it the whole time.”
Even when Valley West was assessed two green cards and a yellow and even amid the unrelenting penalty corners, Rusnock and Hartzel trusted the defensive players in front of them like Woods, Tsioles, Callie Edwards and Jillian Bonczewski.
All told, Hartzel and Rusnock recorded 10 saves and allowed zero goals against a Donegal team that scored seven times in the first two rounds of PIAAs.
“They make my job so much easier as a center-back,” Woods said. “I’m so grateful to have such reliable goalkeepers that know the game so well and are willing to do anything to stop the ball.”
Unable to score on its many opportunities, Donegal defended as Valley West’s forwards moved into Donegal’s backfield at the end of the game and forced a corner.
That’s when Woods delivered the thrill of a career against pressure from a defender with 3 seconds left.
“I was just trying to stay patient and keep moving the ball until she stepped back,” Woods said. “That’s when I just kind of pushed it in, and it went in.”
Even before the Spartans had played a game this season, senior cocaptain Foto Tsioles predicted Woods would be needed in such a moment.
Considering she usually plays defense, it was somewhat of a bold prediction in that Tuesday’s goal was merely Woods’ third of the year.
“When we chose them as captains, Foto said to Madison, ‘You’re going to score when we need it,’” Hartzel recalled. “That’s exactly what happened. We needed a goal to go in, and she’s the one who did it.”
SECOND HALF: Madison Woods (VW) from Cameryn Forgash, 0:03. Shots-corners: VW 7-7, Don 10-19. Saves: VW (Nikki Hartzel, Sydney Rusnock) 10, Don (Katie Jean) 6.
Valley West players celebrate after Madison Woods, second from right, scored with less than five seconds remaining in the second half to lead the Spartans to a 1-0 win over Donegal in the PIAA Class 2A semifinals on Tuesday at Whitehall High School.
Valley West’s Foto Tsioles dives in an attempt to keep the ball in bounds during Tuesday’s PIAA Class 2A semifinal against Donegal at Whitehall High School.
Valley West goalie Sydney Rusnock, left, hugs teammate Madison Woods after Tuesday’s win.