ALTOONA – Pat Vereb had an important decision to make following the loss of standout forward Regan LaVigna to an injury in a WPIAL quarterfinal match Oct. 24.
The Peters Township girls soccer coach could have helped replace the scoring void by moving Hannah Stuck to an attacking position.
But Vereb didn’t.
He kept Stuck, a productive goal scorer in her own right, as a holding midfielder to form a feared one-two punch in the middle with senior Natalie Daube.
The longtime coach now looks like a genius.
Sticking to the script of controlling possession, dominating the midfield and using youth to score worked again Saturday as Peters Township defeated District 3 champion Cumberland Valley, 2-1, in a PIAA Class 4A quarterfinal match at Mansion Park in Altoona.
“I think with the injury we decided that we were going to win games in the midfield with two of the best players on the western side of the state,” Vereb said of Stuck and Daube. “We just thought we could manage the game better playing that way.”
Peters Township (18-4) advances to the semifinals to play District 1 runner-up Souderton on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined. Souderton defeated WPIAL champion Seneca Valley on penalty kicks Saturday.
As Stuck and Daube control the pace of play and limited opponents with their successful defense, little did Vereb know where the Indians were going to find scoring.
In the last four matches, all seven goals from the Indians have been scored by freshmen or sophomores.
“I’d be lying to you if I told you we’d keep Hannah back on defense and let freshmen score goals, but that’s the way it’s turning out. I cannot explain it. Most of (the underclassmen) didn’t score goals all year. Then, all of the sudden, here we are.”
Six minutes into the second half, freshman Jillian Marvin collected a pass 20 yards from the net and found room over the Cumberland Valley (18-2-2) goalkeeper to break the tie and give the Indians a 2-1 lead they would cling to for the remainder of the match.
“Honestly, it’s amazing,” Daube, one of only two senior starters during this stretch run, said of the youth movement.
“Every day (the underclassmen) come in and work really hard. They kept improving as the year went. They know and are comfortable with the system now.”
Another freshmen, CeCe Scott, broke a scoreless tie in the 13th minute. With the Cumberland Valley net vacated for a split second, Scott sailed a 30-yard shot over the returning goalkeeper’s head into the bottom of the net for a 1-0 lead.
It was the second consecutive game in which Scott scored for Peters Township. She also had a marker in a 3-1 win over Erie McDowell in the first round Tuesday.
After an onslaught by Cumberland Valley in the final 10 minutes of the first half produced a goal by Gina Lukoskie to draw even, the Indians averted further danger to get into the locker room and regroup, tied at 1-1.
Stuck and Daube then made numerous plays in the second half to help regain the composure of Peters Township, which held off the Eagles in the final 34 minutes.
“Hannah and Natalie are special players who just work really hard,” Vereb said. “They are able to see and control the game at a different level. I don’t think, even though Cumberland Valley was a very good team, that it had anywhere close to the midfielders that we do. The middle of the field dictated the play.”
It’s a role Stuck, who was recruited to play the same position at Bucknell, is perfectly happy filling.
“I am used to playing the holding midfielder. It’s the only position I play in club soccer.” Stuck said. “I want to do whatever role that helps our team succeed. We always talk as a team about how everybody has to do their job. And at this point in the season, it’s all about coming out on top.”