If you were to describe the Wilson Lady Bulldogs (22-2-2) with one word, it would have to be resilient. After losing to Fleetwood on penalty kicks, Wilson players moved on, focusing their sights on a district championship."It's just the character of this team," Wilson coach Tim Fick said. "They don't let things rattle them.
"In the Berks championship, we weren't beaten on the field of play. It was a minor setback considering we still had a district and possibly state title to play for. We had no choice but to refocus."
As coach Fick pointed out, Berks isn't regarded as one of the better girls soccer leagues, but people have to recognize that our county has two outstanding teams this season in Fleetwood and Wilson.
However, when Central Dauphin tied the District 3-AAA championship at 1-1 with 11 seconds left in the first half on May 25 at Hersheypark Stadium, the Wilson girls couldn't count on their reputation to win this game. Therefore, they regrouped at halftime, knowing they could play better.
With 18-minutes left in the first half, sophomore Taylor Napoli scored the first Wilson goal on a penalty kick, ironically the only such kick for the Bulldogs this season, and was also involved on the team's other two goals.
Napoli made a spectacular direct kick that angled to the far post where sophomore Jenna Riegel headed it in with 24:44 left.
The Bulldogs gave themselves some breathing room when, with 7:25 left, Napoli led sophomore Ali Miller perfectly with a pass.
Miller proceeded to cross the ball to senior captain Amanda Nigrelli, who deposited the ball in the net.
"The underclassmen have followed the lead of the seniors such as Amanda," Coach Fick said. "Amanda is 100 percent energy. She is our emotional leader on and off the field."
To get the opportunity to win their fourth district girls' soccer title, the Bulldogs didn't have an easy journey.
They had to beat Lower Dauphin, 2-1 in overtime, Cumberland Valley, 3-0 and Chambersburg, 1-0, 5-4 on penalty kicks.
However, Wilson almost didn't advance beyond the first round.
"This was our toughest game in districts because the girls were nervous, knowing that if they lost, their season was over," Fick said. "Nevertheless, they all believed they could get the job done."
Napoli finally ended the game in overtime with a goal assisted by Miller.
Against Cumberland Valley, Miller scored 90 seconds into the game, which allowed Fick to rest some of his players a little more than usual and alter his strategy.
The Bulldogs took control in the second half with goals by sophomore Jesse Ebner and freshman Olivia Yoh.
In the district semis against Chambersburg, the Bulldogs found themselves in a battle against a defensive-oriented team.
"They had an outstanding keeper and four fast and athletic backs, who read the game well," Fick said. "They had 13 or 14 shutouts this season, and weren't as offensive-minded as most teams."
Of course, Wilson is known for its defensive prowess as well, and the Bulldogs' defense was great throughout districts, led by Kate Miller, Meg Shoff, Sammi Wierzbicki and keeper Brittany Melnyk.
After 110 minutes of scoreless soccer, Wilson and Chambersburg had to resort to penalty kicks to decide a winner.
"The girls were nervous," Fick said. "They didn't want to have to go through this again (a penalty kick situation such as occurred in the Berks championship).
Taking a lot of the pressure off the Bulldogs was the fact that they had already qualified for states, no matter the outcome of this game.
Penalty kicks are mostly mental. The players taking the shots must make the most of their opportunities.
"I have a gut feeling and choose from a pool of eight or nine players who have been playing with confidence in an order to maximize their chances," Fick said.
At least three of the same girls who had taken penalty kicks against Fleetwood in the county championship shot here, but Shannon Gallagher, who tied the score at 4-4, was a different shooter. And she kept the game going on a bad knee she had injured in this game.
Fittingly, Shoff, whose missed penalty kick in the county championship sent the Tigers into a wild celebration, kept the Bulldogs in contention for a more prestigious title by beating the keeper.