Coming off a one-win season two years ago, few observers could have guessed that the Port Allegany girls’ soccer team would explode onto the scene the way it did in 2008, finishing with a .500 record in the Upper Allegheny Valley Soccer League’s North division and taking defending District 9 champion Elk County Catholic into overtime before falling 1-0 in a playoff quarterfinal.
“Last year was a dream season for us,” head coach Travis Cowburn said of his 8-11 Lady Gators. “We set a goal to win eight games, which we did. This year, we’re going to try to step up on that. Double digits is our aim, and we want to get to 12. Is it realistic? We don’t really know yet; we’re untried in a couple of areas that we were really good in last year. We’re going to give it a shot, though. The heart is there now. We’ve been preaching ‘grit’ for the last two years, and this time we’ve got a group of seniors building on last year that really can get the job done, so we’re looking at doing some positive things this year.”
As the varsity program continues to build momentum with the help of the community leagues, the fourth-year coach has noticed the difference in his players’ grasp of the fundamentals. “It’s a lot easier for me just to tweak what it is they’re trying to do, instead of teaching them how to pass correctly and all these other things,” he said.
Port lost several multi-year starters to graduation, including goalkeeper Cortney Barnett, an UAVSL All-Star. “She was a special player for us,” Cowburn said. But while he originally anticipated a dropoff at the position, he’s been pleasantly surprised by the progression of sophomore Jordan Edgell’s work in the net. “She’s come out and worked hard in the offseason, went to camps, and she’s really stepped up. She hasn’t shown any weakness… I don’t think that’s going to be a weak point at all.”
Co-captains Barnett and Jenn Anderson may have moved on, but Cowburn thinks he has a strong group to replace them, beginning with senior midfielder Kaitlyn Kio.
“She’s the inspirational leader of this team, and she was, really, last year,” he said. “She’s the one that’s got the talent, she’s the one people look up to, her teammates are rallying around her, and she’s just a positive influence no matter where she is on the field. She’ll be our speaking captain this year, along with Amanda Kelly, who’s the all-time leading scorer at Port Allegany, and Bryanna Evans, the underclassman captain, who has also won district honors in years past. So we’ve got a great core of leaders in every facet, whether it’s playing the game, inspirational leadership, giving the pep talks, or whatever it is, and they’re really doing a fantastic job.”
The Lady Gator attack will be led by Kelly – “we’re looking for her to do some really good things in our new formation” – along with juniors Nicole Lovell and Carli Johnston. Kio and Evans will anchor the midfield, along with freshman Kaylee Kio. Another senior, Amarae Reinard, will be playing a little of both midfield and defense. “She’s basically going to be running the show in the midfield, and she’s got tremendous talent,” Cowburn said.
Brittany Drabert inherits Anderson’s spot in the middle of the defense, flanked by fellow senior Shanel Halle and sophomore Hannah Wise. Junior Julia Cullver, sophomores Lindsey Delacour and Megan Bishel, and freshmen Mary Rosenswie and Cheyenne Helo complete the roster.
Considering that it took the team almost two full seasons to win its first game, Cowburn is pleased with their progress, but he and assistant coach Tony Edgell are continuing to set their sights on loftier goals.
“We’re coming along,” he said. “We’re ahead of schedule only four years into it, and we’re starting to make some noise. We’re looking to capitalize on last season, and try to go deep into districts. We really think we can get a higher seed this year, and we’d like to win a game in districts … or maybe even two. Only time will tell what’s going to happen, but I think we’ve got the talent to do it. With the heart and soul that we have, I think we’re going to be able to make some noise in the league this year. ECC is still the team to beat, but we took them to overtime in districts, and we’re going to see if we can rattle their cage a little bit.”