2017 SEASON: Welcome

1st team all-stars include Hannah Kowalski and Meghan Noone(Times Tribune photo)
Monday, November 14
Lackawanna League All-Stars

Juniors Hannah Kowalski and Meghan Noone were each selected to the Lackawanna League first team. Senior Ashley Mulherin and juniors Abby Brown and Emily Clauss were each selected to the second team. 

Friday, November 4

Emily Clauss battles Crestwood's Vanessa Atie for ball (Photo: E. Black)

The Crestwood Lady Comets scored two goals within the last two minutes of the game--including one goal that was netted with just 9 seconds remaining. This produced a final scoreline that suggested that the District Two AAA Championship match was more one-sided than it actually was. The truth is that the 5-1 final margin was manufactured quite late, with each of the final three goals coming well into the second half. Although the girls from Luzerne County did have the game pretty well in hand for much of the second stanza, the scoreboard read 3-1 with 1:48 remaining. Then, suddenly, Crestwood was able to add two quick exclamation points onto their achievement just as the stat book was closing.

Crestwood's sophomore extraordinaire Melissa Herrera, certainly one of NEPA's most talented soccer players, produced the last-minute brace that padded the score. And she was also involved in baking the cinnamon bun long before she applied the frosting. She had been been marshalling the offense all evening and had scored an unasssisted goal early in the second half. Her ball control was close to exquisite; on one occasion, she beat not simply one, not merely two, but three well-positioned Abington defenders. This reporter has not really seen something like that at the high school level. The Lady Comet defense has certainly been tough lately; the AHHS back line has often been unyielding. But last night Herrera answered an age-old question by showing that it is the unstoppable force that beats the immovable object.

Near the outset of the game, the Lady Comets had established field position and were actually controlling the flow of the game until Crestwood's Vanessa Atie got everyone's attention by scoring with a bomb from the top of the box. After this, momentum seemed to change--and, for the most part, change for good. AHHS fought back with resilience, and the score remained 1-0 at the half. But the second 40 minutes would belong to Crestwood. The young women from Mountaintop elevated their game indeed.

Herrera's early second-half goal flipped the score up to 2-0 and seemed to be a omen. The principal joy for Abington arose with 32:22 left in the game, when--just one minute after Herrera's tally--Hannah Kowalski scored on a well-executed header taken directly from an Ashley Mulherin corner kick. That athletic goal put the Lady Comets back in the match and reinvigorated the Abington sideline. However, everything would soon turn sour again. Less than six minutes later, Crestwood threw another punch when Sam Brumagin produced an explosive goal that would extend the lead to 3-1. 

The corner kicks were even on the night, but Crestwood held the overall advantage as far as statistics and time of possession was concerned. Abington could not get numbers forward in the second-half and could not corral Herrera; these two deficiencies defined the outcome.

AHHS finishes the season at 16-6. This win-loss record is identical to the 16-6 stat that the team posted last year. Yet this year's team collected district silver medals and a Lackawanna League championship plaque to go along with the 16 wins. Medals and plaques do not come easy. The last time the Lady Comets won the district title was 2012, and the last time they won both the district and the league championship was 2011.  So, the Lady Comets have much to be proud of when it comes to this season's accomplishments. Congratulations to all.

Abby Brown closes in on the ball (Photo: E. Black)

Wednesday, November 2

Meghan Noone shuts down WVW attacker (Photo: E. Black)

There is little doubt that juniors Emily Clauss and Hannah Kowalski are gifted natural athletes, and there is also little doubt that these two young women have stepped to the fore in recent games. After playing absolutely crucial roles in each of the last two Lady Comet overtime affairs, each of these girls scored twice against a stingy Wyoming Valley West defense. This dynamic duo also logged one assist apiece against WVW, as AHHS rolled to a 5-1 victory.

This win over their Luzerne County foe was significant for the Lady Comets because they became the first team--not named Crestwood or Dallas--that the Spartans have lost to this year. The win was also significant because the Abington offense came out of its recent hibernation, not only by scoring early and often, but by using more combination play than usual.

The first goal of the match occurred ten minutes in when Abby Brown ripped in a free kick from 25 yards out. Shortly thereafter, AHHS would institute its passing game, moving the ball quickly and crisply; many of the passes had quality texture and off-the-ball movement was more prudent and frequent than we have seen this season. First, Kowalski would send a through ball forward, and the speedy Clauss would finish the deal without a hitch. Then, with 6:05 left on the first-half clock, Clauss would push a little one-touch layoff directly into Kowalski's wheelhouse, producing an emphatic goal that for all practical purposes screamed: "are we looking good today or what?" The 3-0 halftime lead had everyone feeling pretty secure. WVW had not been very effective in mounting a meaningful attack--while the Abington offense was being spirited ahead by a very vocal contingent from the AHHS boys' team.

The second half would feature the same stars who sparkled during the first--in other words, the touted tandem of Clauss and Kowalski were front and center once again.  After some preliminary back and forth, Carina Salerno--who has herself been quite a hero in recent games--would set up a second goal from Clauss. Not too long thereafter, Kowalski would collect a loose ball and get around the edge; as if riding a jet ski, she would power forward through a seam in the defense and confound the WVW keeper with a great one-on-one finish.

The score was now 5-0, and the horse was in the corral; the money was in the bank; and people were checking their cellphones for random messages. Barring a reconfiguration of the game's entire karmic structure, the Lady Comets were through to the next round and folks were quietly celebrating. 

The Spartans did make a little second-half run during a 15-minute period in which they would collect most of their shots and their only goal. But, for much of the rest of the day, the AHHS back line stood tall--especially Paige Morgan, Abby Brown, Kaila Steenback, and the omnipresent Meghan Noone who was ready to clean up everything in her vicinity. Trish Caucci helped out with five saves, although most of the WVW shots were not that troubling.

The next stop for the AHHS girls will be the district championship game, which the Lady Comets will "host" at Keystone College tomorrow night at six. Due to Crestwood's upset win over Dallas, the Comets will again take on the Comets in an inter-galactic showdown between the #2 and #3 ranked teams in the NPF Power Ratings. Crestwood, who stands at the number two spot, disposed of AHHS rather easily in a match earlier this year, when the Luzerne Comets beat the Lackawanna kids 5-1 down in Mountaintop. However, there are some good reasons to believe that tomorrow's match will unfold differently. Indeed, if the Lady Comets can replicate tomorrow the kind of start they put together against WVW--if they could do that--then they should be very competitive in the championship game. And, for those who have not been to Keystone's field, we should note that the match will be played on a well-lit and virtually new turf field. There will also be bleacher seating. BE THERE!

CRESTWOOD SUCCESS. Crestwood High School soccer has already secured some bragging rights. The school boasts the only program to place both its boys' and girls' teams in the district championship game this year. The boys team lost today in the championship game to Dallas; so, the girls' team will be trying to avoid a similar fate tomorrow night.

Trish Caucci collects a loose ball. (Photo: E. Black)

Saturday, October 29

Kaila Steenback dribbles up field. (Photo: E. Black)

It appears that the 2016 Lady Comets have developed a penchant for suspense. Yesterday, in a game played on Hillside Park's turf field, AHHS slipped past a rampaging Scranton Prep team in a nerve-racking contest that had to be settled by kicks from the mark. This was the Lady Comets' second straight game in which the final decision was postponed to a penalty kick shoot-out round. Back-to-back penalty kick games? Are you kidding? This in itself must be unprecedented in Lady Comet history--indeed, there are many players who log an entire four-year career and never become part of a shoot-out decision. 

Perhaps these recent shoot-outs will help Abington become a little more poised and accomplished in such situations; yet this is not really the kind of thing you want to become experienced at--after all, penalty kick shoot-outs are fraught with contrivance and unpredictability; most teams want to settle the score during the actual game. Yet, no matter how unfair or plainly bizzare such scenarios may be, the Lady Comets have just survived two of them in a row; and thanks to some substantial AHHS determination, and a little bit of luck, the homestanding girls will advance into the district semi-final on Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 p.m.

Harboring what appears to be an aversion to doing things the easy way, AHHS seems to be following the lyrics of a Bee Gee's disco tune; that is, the team is simply "stayin' alive, stayin' alive" when it comes to its end-of-the-season competition. Abington has now been taken into overtime in each of its last three games. Perhaps this string of overtime victories actually represents a good will gesture on the part of a public-minded Lady Comets' team that does not want to see late-arriving spectators miss out on the decisive moments of the matches.

Scranton Prep has been a bit up and down this season; they have recorded some nice wins and have at other times struggled to express themselves. So, how did the Classics play yesterday on the South Abington artficial turf? They played hard!  They certainly needed no shot of adrenaline to spike their intensity; and head Coach Doug Knieser was, for the most part, wearing a wider-than-usual smile as he roamed the Scranton Prep sideline.

Employing a "straight-out-of-the gates" work rate, the Classics recorded two very early goals, and these put the Lady Comets in a hole before most people could open up their lawn chairs. First, the opportunistic Maeve Seymour rolled in a goal off of a corner kick less than five minutes into the game. Julianna Penetar added Prep's second goal less than three minutes later. These quick and impactive goals seemed to catch the Lady Comets off-guard; but, as far as navigating the ball up the field was concerned, AHHS pressed forward and dominated field position and possession for most of the first half, logging a sizable advantage in both corner kicks and shots.

As far as the Lady Comets were concerned, the principal agent of frustration had to have been Prep's star net-minder A.J. Hendershot, who again turned in an outstanding performance between the pipes. Indeed, the Classics would never trade their goalie for any other in the league; Hendershot is a definite "keeper." Time after time, the Lady Comets would send corner kicks and crosses into the box and time after time Hendershot would rocket high into the air to claim the ball. Certainly, many of the Abington corner kicks were too shallow; that is, one cannot succeed by placing straight-as-an arrow corner kicks directly into "the six" where a keeper of Hendershot's calibre will make an easy meal of them.  If a serve is going to be driven into the penalty area against her, it should probably be a firm diagonal arriving 12 or more yards off of the endline or else played as a bending in-swinger that would loop around her or turn in on the far post. 

Despite their terrific start, Prep would not maintain scoreboard supremacy forever. At the 30:43 mark, AHHS would finally get in the scoring column when Emily Clauss dished the ball to Hannah Kowalski who scored her 14th goal of the season. Clauss--who is by far the team leader when it comes to assists this year--would play the role of provider a second time in this game; less than four minutes later, she connected with Allyson Derry for a beautiful and satisfying equalizer. The 2-2 halftime score would be unaffected by the eneregetic efforts that characterized the play of both the second  half and two fifteen minute overtime stanzas. So, after putting 4 balls into the nets by the 35-minute mark, the teams would play for 76 straight minutes without scoring.

The penalty kick round began disappointingly for Prep, as their first attempt flew over the crossbar; Ashley Mulherin would then sink one for the Lady Comets to open up an early 1-0 gap; Catie Collins delivered for Prep to tie things at 1-1, but Paige Morgan quickly re-established the Abington lead with her perfect shot; Angelina Falcone was on the mark with her penalty kick try but Hannah Kowalski was up to the task of answering; then, after a Prep attempt went wide, Hannah Gilbert would close things out in the fourth round, setting the 4-2 penalty kick score.

In our write-up for the league championship game, we suggested that Wallenpaupack and Abington were the two best teams this year in any division of the LIAA. Well, the Classics of Prep nearly beat one of those two teams today and ended their season on a high note.  As for the Lady Comets, they will get to keep playing. The opponent will be Wyoming Valley West who got past North Pocono 1-0 in a game played this morning. So many sundry things can happen in the "one and done" post season. The drama has been excruciatingly significant, and there may be more excitment to come.  

Allyson Derry had a first half goal. (Photo: E. Black)

Friday, October 21

Emily Clauss celebrates with teammates (Photo: E. Black)

After several years of expressing their excellence as the second best team in the league, last night in the soccer-friendly confines of Moscow, the Lady Comets returned to a glorious pinnacle upon which they have not stood since 2011. The Lady Comets slipped past the Wallenpaupack Lady Buckhorns and collected the Lackawanna League Championship. In a well-played, energetic, and relatively physical contest, two talented and hard-working teams brought an uncommon intensity to the pitch. It was as if steam was rising from the field in this "you were meant for me" matchup. These two high-quality teams--easily the best teams from any division of the Lackawanna League this season--offered to those watching what was probably the most entertaining, engrossing, suspenseful, and dramatic girls' soccer game that this grizzled and well-traveled reporter has ever seen. Did any of the paying customers not get their five-bucks-worth last night? Certainly, the girls from these teams must have known that there was an admission price attached to the fans' entry because they put on one spectacular show, treating all in attendance to an exuberant display. Stress levels grew throughout the contest which, after two overtime periods, ended in what seemed to be an inevitable and an appropriate 2-2 tie. Yet that could not be the end of it. Now, the highest of high drama would ensue. The teams would have to move into penalty kicks to determine a winner.

The Penalty Kick Round. It was appropriate that a back and forth battle like this would extend to a penalty kick shoot-out, a shoot-out that would itself exhibit all of the nearly insufferable anxiety that defined the actual match. In the shoot-out showdown, it was junior Emily Clauss who did indeed play the role of Santa, gifting her team with the decisive kick. Perhaps her destiny was set by the fact that Clauss was wearing number 6 on her back and would be shooting out of the sixth position on the kick-takers' list. At any rate, she would masterfully execute her shot.  In fact, she had to perform her game-winning feat twice--not because the crowd demanded an encore, although that would have been understandable--but because the uber-competitve Clauss was so fired up about having the opportunity to sink the winning shot, she took her first kick just a touch ahead of the referee's whistle and therefore had to reproduce her excellent shot in a re-take. The re-run was actually no problem because, as Clauss herself explained, she simply repeated in her head: "you've got this; you've got this."

The effect of Clauss's kick would not have been possible without the saves made earlier in the sequence by Trish Caucci. In a penalty-kick round, one hopes that a keeper can make at least one save. Caucci did better than that and turned the ball away two times. Those saves, coupled with a Wallenpaupack miss, allowed AHHS to compile a 4-3 advantage from the mark, utilizing perfect shots, not only from the hyper-expressive Clauss, but also from Paige Morgan, Hannah Gilbert, and Carina Salerno. These last two players, by the way, provided big help beyond their contributions during the shoot-out; they were also the offensive stars during regulation play.

The Match. Following an early long-distance goal from Wallenpaupack's Guillianna Iona, the Lady Buckhorns found ways for the rest of the half to keep a hard-charging Lady Comets' attack from retaliating; consequently, the ladies from the lake strode off the field with a 1-0 lead at intermission. 

However, there would be much more sweating and grinding in an amped-up second stanza. Coming off of her heroic performance against Prep on Tuesday, Salerno would once again delight the crowd by scoring an equalizer with 24:15 left in the game. Hannah Kowalski was credited with an assist on what would be Salerno's second crucial goal in two games.

The improved comfort level of the Lady Comets did not last for long. Wallenpaupack quickly recaptured the lead when Racheal Tirjan pulled in a brave counterattack pass from Sabrina Boyd and feathered in a beautiful goal over the charging keeper. But sour Abington faces would soon turn joyful again. With just under 16 minutes left, Hannah Gilbert scooped up a ball from the foot of Ashley Mulherin and sent home a shot that flew perfectly over the fully-extended arms of the Paupack keeper. Gilbert's goal was a lifesaver; it was what kept all hope alive at a time when the clock seemed to be winding down too quickly. 

Both teams would press hard for the last 15 minutes but neither side could score--either during regulation or overtime. Much of this was due to the outstanding defense played by both sides. Abby Brown and Meghan Noone were, as usual, the central force of the Abington defense, but Paige Morgan was also on fire--and young Jenna Patel played some big time minutes late. Veteran fullbacks Kaila Steenback and Bella Demo were also wonderfully active. Wallenpaupack had to have felt the frustration. 

If you missed this spirited contest, I feel sorry for you. But there is still time to watch the Lady Comets this fall. The team will be moving into the district championship tournament as the number two seed and will be hosting in the quarterfinal round next week, after enjoying a "bye" during the first round. AHHS would play the winner of the Pittston Area/Scranton Prep game. So, the Abington girls will open the post-season against either a team that they have not played for many years or an incredibly familiar foe. Be there!

Hannah Kowalski dribbles out of pressure (Photo: E. Black)

Lady Comets celebrate their first league title since 2011.(Graphic. E.Black)

Wednesday, October 19

Carina Salerno

It would have been devastating if the Lady Comets had lost this game. Devastating! And not merely because a loss to a rival like Scranton Prep always stings. And not merely because a win was needed in order to move into tomorrow night's league title game. A loss would have been devastating for many other reasons as well.  For example, AHHS had controlled the contest statistically, had created some terrific shot opportunities, and had played some consistently strong defense; in effect, Abington had established early momentum in a game where the Lady Comets had, on many occasions, advanced the ball deep into Prep territory only to encounter some tough luck in their efforts to get the ball into the net: AHHS had collected the cash but, for an agonizing span of 82 minutes, they could not find a way to drop the penny into the bank.

Prep played well. The daughters of Ignatius wore a countenance of determination. They were able to short-circuit many Abington attacks with some excellent last-ditch defending and with an all-conference-worthy performance from A. J. Hendershot who turned away 8 on-frame attempts  Carrying an appropriate last name, A.J. can "hinder your shot" in many ways, and the Lady Comets were frustrated by her versatile defending all day. She read the Abington attack well, staying put when the situation called for it and then coming off of her line on cue.

After a full 80-minute serving of frustration, junior Carina Salerno became the hero, taking a pass from Hannah Kowalski and streaking beyond the Prep defense to beat Hendershot in a one-on-one breakway scenario. The overtime goal was the fifth on the season for Salerno and came just over two minutes into the first extra period. 

Abington held a 9-1 shot advantage at the half, but the Classics elevated the level of attack in the second half, getting after the AHHS goal with more purpose. Trish Caucci was, however, up to the challange and collected four saves that helped neutralize Prep's second-half energy.

CHAMPIONSHIP CONTEST IS NEXT. The victorious Lady Comets will now turn their attention to tomorrow night's championship playoff game against Wallenapupack. The match will be held on neutral ground at North Pocono High School at 6:00 p.m. More on this game will be posted later today.


2016 Seniors

Thursday, October 13

As part of their tribute to the team's six outstanding seniors, the Lady Comets made sure they secured a victory over a feisty Valley View team. With the win, Abington was able to keep pace with Wallenpaupack and may be on a collision course with the Lady Buckhorns as far as a post-season championship playoff game is concerned. If both Abington and Wallenpaupack win their final matches--AHHS vs. Scranton Prep and the Lady Buckhorns vs. Valley View--fans would be treated to a championship event next week. And such would be deja vu all over again for the Lady Comets who went to a post-season tiebreaker game against Scranton Prep last season. 

Although Abington dominated the statistics in today's contest, the homestanding girls did not put much on the scoreboard until the second half. The Lady Comets led only 1-0 at the break. Despite the fact that early on in this match AHHS was able to generate shots, the Lady Comets were not finding the frame and were not particularly confident nor steady on the finish. They were also a fraction of a second slow on the release of many shots--and perhaps a step slow in general. The hope is that these developments will not extend into the upcoming post-season.

In the second half of this game, Valley View--after recording just one first-half shot--broke through the Abington defense on a couple of occasions, but each time junior goalkeeper Trish Caucci thrilled the crowd with an excellent save, turning in some of her best work of the season. Caucci was, in fact, rather relentless throughout the entire match--at least, throughout the portions of the match that took place down in the Abington end. To be honest, Valley View did not generate enough play in the Abington end to be particularly competitive.  

It is interesting how two games against the same opponent can mimic each other. Although the scoring margin (4-0 as oppossed to 6-1) were not identical, today's game and the one played earlier this fall at Valley View shared far too many similarities. For example, the last time AHHS met up with Valley View, Hannah Kowalski scored the first goal--and this time Kowalski also nailed the curtain-raiser. Last time at Valley View, Paige Morgan delivered the second goal--and this time, wouldn't you know it, Morgan would again provide the second score. Emily Clauss registered two big goals last time out in Archbald, but one was from a right side diagonal smash. And, again today, she would knock home a right side diagonal shot from nearly the same distance and angle. Ashley Mulherin recorded her second assist of the season today. Her other assist came against? Guess who!  In the previous Valley View game this year, Abington outshot the Cougars 26-6; that statistical margin was mirrored almost exactly in today's 23-6 differential. Abington also had exactly 7 fouls in each game and compiled exact 3-0 offside margins. The apparent "spookiness" of these coincidences arises not from the fact that Halloween is only half-a-month away, but from the soccer truism that similar things seem to happen in games played against the same team. For goodness sake, I should have saved myself a lot of work and simply photocopied the scorebook from the first contest. All that I would have then needed to do was dab a little "white out" here and there and make a couple of minor adjustments to the page.

PREP IS NEXT.  As mentioned above, the Lady Comets have to clear one more hurdle before they would reach a league championship playoff. This next Tuesday, they will have to travel into city to take on Prep (7-3) at Loyola Field. The tough-monded Classics are usually pretty solid at home. This figures to be an interesting game. Book your seats now!

CONGRATULATIONS: The team honored Allyson Derry, Ashley Mulherin, Bella Demo, Kelsey Jackson, Mackenzie Machell, and Nicole Getz this afternoon. Six exemplary athletes and scholastic citizens. Best wishes to them all, and thanks for the great memories.

Six seniors were honored during the game. Absent from photo is Mackenzie Machell