CHARLEROI – The Charleroi High School girls soccer team began its Section 2-A matchup against Bentworth as it has much of the season: attacking the net and executing a fast-paced offense.
Almost 15 years after back-to-back state championship game apppearances, Charleroi is in position to clinch a playoff spot after defeating Bentworth 2-1 Wednesday night.
Less than two minutes into the game, junior forward Halee Fedrick found a hole in the Bearcats’ defense, received a breakaway pass and beat Benworth senior goalkeeper Jessica Klett for the early 1-0 lead. The Cougars did not stop there.
Sophomore midfielder Kyra Watkins fired in a shot from 30 yards out that sailed over the head of Klett. The fast start continued throughout the first half with Cougar forwards finding open field behind the Bearcats (6-4, 7-6) defense, achieving multiple scoring opportunities.
“That was the key to our whole game,” Charleroi head coach Jim Rue said. “We knew we would have to start quickly because they play a tough defensive game. Theyre a tough team and we knew it was going to be a tough game.”
The Cougars (7-1-1, 9-1-1) have put pressure on opposing defenders all season. Charleroi scored 39 goals over a five-game span leading up to its rematch Monday night against section-leader South Allegheny (8-0-1, 10-2-1), which resulted in a 1-1 draw.
Fedrick said that match feuled the team’s drive for a run at the section title and a strong finish to the regular season.
“We’re all looking to win the section title,” Fedrick said. “All of us want to push and make a run, and I feel like our teamwork will improve down the stretch and in the postseason.”
Charleroi controlled the time of possession; relentlessly challenging Bentworth on both sides of the ball. As the Bearcats attempted to push the ball upfield early in the first half, Cougars junior defender Marissa Johnson stymied the rushes by challenging Bentworth’s forwards and preventing a shot on net.
Charleroi sophomore goalkeeper Sydney Toth only had to make one save during the first half.
There was a familiar face on the sideline for Bentworth as their head coach, Dan Haywood, led Charleroi to their state tile runs in the late 1990s before being let go in 2006.
The reclamation project of the Charleroi’s soccer program began several years ago – after Haywood departed the program. With the new Cougar Stadium and a strong voice in Rue, the Cougars are ready to resume the success. With only five seniors on the roster and 11 sophomores, Rue’s team has the perfect mix of experience and youth.
When asked how it was to see his former school off to such a strong start, Haywood did not shy away from the truth.
“It (stinks),” Haywood said. “It really does. (Cougar Stadium) is a great facility and it would have been nice to play here, but high school sports run in cycles. We had a ton of talent in the late 1990s and great people working with the program, but there is always a dropoff. Jim is doing a great job, though.”
The second half was a defensive standoff, as both teams attempted to pressure the opposing defense with crossfield passes, but scoring opportunities were minimal. With eight minutes to play, Bentworth finally broke Charleroi’s defense.
Pushing the ball into the scoring box, the Bobcats knocked a loose ball into the air that deflected off the hands of Toth. With the loose ball close to the net, Bentworth senior forward Madison Jones spoiled the shutout by bumping the ball off her chest and into the back of the net, drawing the Bobcats within 2-1.
Bentworth’s relentless attempt to tie the score continued until the end of the match. The Bearcats dominated time of possession and almost caught a break when Jones broke free and fired a shot from 15 yards, but the ball defelected off a Charleroi defender as the Cougars secured the season sweep of their section rivals.
Rue is excited for his team’s postseason potential but three injuries to players have him cautiously looking ahead.
“It’s getting to that time in the season when every team is dealing with injuries and you can’t afford for it to happen too much,” Rue said. “There is not an easy game left on our schedule and every team will certainly be a challenge.”