GO­ING FOR GOLD

Val­ley West, Sem­i­nary ad­vance to Satur­day’s state fi­nals

The Citizens' Voice - - Sports - BY MATT BUFANO STAFF WRITER

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.

CHRISTO­PHER DOLAN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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.

CHRISTO­pHER DOlAN / STAff pHOTOgRApHER

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.

CHRISTO­pHER DOlAN / STAff pHOTOgRApHER

Val­ley West goalie Syd­ney Rus­nock, left, hugs team­mate Madi­son Woods af­ter Tues­day’s win.

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