It’s been a wild season for the Elizabethtown Area High School girls soccer team. After a 5-2 start to the year, the Lady Bears fell victim to a gauntlet of a schedule, losing four straight games across seven days to fall back in the standings of both the Lancaster-Lebanon League and District 3.
However, they’ve responded well, not losing a game since then. It culminated during their recent slate, with Elizabethtown tying Ephrata (who later clinched the Section Two title) 2-2 at home on Thursday, Oct. 3, and avenging an earlier overtime loss against Lampeter-Strasburg with a 2-1 victory during the Pioneers’ Senior Night on Monday, Oct. 7. Now at 9-6-1, the Lady Bears are in great position to lock up a spot in the postseason.
“It took a lot of heart,” head coach Brian Ressler said. “A lot of people digging in deep and finding something late in the season. Everyone showed a lot of character and pride for the school. They don’t want their season to end on Thursday. They’re stepping up to the plate and showing that they want to keep going.”
Early in the game against Ephrata, in the midst of a rain shower, Elizabethtown struck first, with senior Alicia Underkoffler collecting a corner kick from fellow senior Olivia Shuck and trickling the ball into the net. Just under eight minutes into the game, the Lady Bears were up 1-0 on the section champs.
The Mounts reversed the flow of the game later in the half, however. With just over eight minutes left before the break, senior Reagan McCarty sent a beautiful direct kick just over the reach of junior Elizabethtown goalkeeper Kaitlyn Snyder. The ball hit off the crossbar and landed cleanly for a goal, tying the game at 1-1.
Both sides slowed down for much of the second half, playing physically on defense (they wound up combining for 32 fouls on the day). Ephrata was able to utilize another direct kick to take the lead with just over nine minutes remaining; junior Olivia Myer sent the ball toward senior Mary Campbell, who headed it back to McCarty for the go-ahead goal.
For the next five minutes, it appeared that the Lady Bears would be unable to get a good enough look on offense to tie the game. However, they were able to force another corner kick with just under four minutes to go. Senior Kaelynn Sheetz directed the ball into a scrum, where Underkoffler and several Mounts defenders traded headers back and forth until the ball came to rest … right in front of freshman Abby Sedun, who blasted the ball in for the equalizer. It was her first career goal.
In overtime, Elizabethtown nearly ended things early when sophomore Aivery Shuck sent a breakaway shot toward senior Ephrata goalie Jocelyn Umana, who made a diving save. Later, a long shot from freshman Taryn Hummer clanged off the crossbar as well, and Umana had to again dive on the ball to prevent a rebound attempt.
The rest of OT, as well as the second extra period, was much quieter; neither team had a shot on goal. Thus, they walked out with a draw. Both Snyder and Umana finished with 10 saves each.
“That was huge,” Ressler said. “Getting a tie against them, the section leader and perennial powerhouse … fighting back to tie it so late in the game and going on to perform in overtime absolutely propelled us. It made us believe that by the end of the season we’ll be there.”
The game at L-S was even worse when it came to the weather; the two teams had to play during a downpour at different points. It didn’t hold the Lady Bears down though. After 15 minutes without a shot on goal, Sheetz curled a corner kick cleanly into the net for the opening goal.
“It started us off exactly how we wanted,” Ressler said. “We wanted to go out early, put them on their heels and let them know we’re here to play. That goal absolutely put them back a little back.”
The first half was extremely competitive in terms of defense; there were just three shots on goal combined. The Pioneers’ lone attempt came from senior Emma Houck, who collected a direct kick from junior Kendall Hadesty and scored to tie the game at 1-1 with just over eight minutes left before halftime.
Six minutes into the second half, Sheetz again capitalized on a corner kick, this time finding Hummer in the box, who quickly tapped the ball to Underkoffler for the go-ahead goal. It was the sixth successful score off a corner kick for Elizabethtown in the last five games.
“We’re really working hard on them,” Ressler said. “That was all Alicia and Kaelynn. They realized (L-S) wasn’t really paying attention, so we could play it quick, get it in and finish. Credit to them for recognizing that and countering.”
L-S turned the pressure on from there, sending a whopping nine shots on goal Snyder’s way, all of which she stopped. However, only a few were serious attempts, and the Lady Bears defense, led by Underkoffler, Hummer and junior Carly Sedun, held the Pioneers in check down the stretch, which was enough for the win. All the more impressive considering Elizabethtown was missing Olivia Shuck (sore knee) and junior midfielder Sophia Berry (turf toe) due to injury.
“The defense stepped up,” Ressler said. “Knowing we weren’t at full strength, they held hard. We went into a little bit of a bunker there in the last 15-to-20 minutes just to seal it out. It was all hands on deck. (L-S) had to make a miraculous play to get by us, and we were able to show that we’re really strong defensively when we need to be.”
The win over L-S clinched a winning record for the Lady Bears, their first since an undefeated regular season in 2016 and Ressler’s first as head coach. After a down year in 2018 where they finished 3-12-2 thanks to one of the toughest schedules in District 3 and widespread injuries on the roster, this year’s performance has to be uplifting.
“We know that on any given night, we can go out and be the best team on the field,” Ressler said. “That’s our goal every time we step onto the turf. Last year was a learning experience for all of us, and this year, we’re showing that we worked really hard in the offseason to improve and prepare for where we are now. The dividends are showing.”
There’s one final regular-season game, and it’ll be a big one. Elizabethtown will travel to Manheim Central on Thursday, Oct. 10, with playoff implications on the line. The Lady Bears rank 14th in the Class 4A power ratings as of Tuesday, Oct. 8, and they’ll be able to essentially clinch a district playoff berth with a win. If Ephrata beats L-S the same night, they’ll also have a shot to get into leagues, which begin on Saturday, Oct. 12. A loss could end their season. The Barons outlasted Elizabethtown 3-2 in overtime earlier this season. What will it take to get a win in the rematch?
“An effort like tonight and an effort against Ephrata where we want it more,” Ressler said. “When we play our game, teams find it hard to play with us. Everybody has to step up their game a little further. We want to go leagues on Saturday, so that’s what it’s gonna take.”