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Big test

Warren girls meet top-ranked team in country in today’s PIAA Class 3A quarters

Times Observer File Photo by Jay Young Warren’s Kyleigh Wilson, in front, fends off Bradford’s Keslea Austin while Dragons keeper Alyssa Andersen goes up for a save during last Saturday’s PIAA prequarterfinal game at War Memorial Field.

According to one source, the Warren girls soccer team will face the most difficult test available today in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class 3A quarterfinals.

That is because District 7 champion Mars (16-0), which will host the Lady Dragons at 2 p.m., is the top-ranked team in the country, according to the United Soccer Coaches.

Not the best team in Pennsylvania. In the country.

“They know they are playing the No. 1 team in the country, which was interesting to find out two days ago. That Mars got bumped up to the No. 1 team in the country,” Warren coach Jeremy Bickling said. “The girls aren’t scared of playing this game. They wanted this opportunity.’

In fact, Bickling and company have been hoping for another crack at the Planets since falling to the 2019 state champions one year ago, 6-1, in the first round of the postseason.

Times Observer Photo by Jay Young Members of the Warren girls soccer team celebrate their victory over Bradford last week.

Warren enters today’s game with a perfect 18-0 mark after defeating Bradford, 2-1, to claim its second District 10 title in as many years.

This week, the team has had the benefit of practicing at War Memorial Field every day, as they prepare for the challenge.

“We’ve been lucky being the only team that is still participating as far as fall sports for Warren. We had access to the turf and have been able to get sessions in every night and had some great weather,” Bickling said. “We know right now we have a specific team to beat with specific goals so we’re just preparing for them knowing that we are going to be pushed defensively both in terms of one-on-one and them being able to attack us as a group. Obviously we saw them a year ago and I have watched a few of their games. I’m familiar with what they are capable of, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to what we will see on the field. It could be completely different. It is hard to know until you see them in person.”

As you would expect from their ranking, the Planets boast a roster loaded with talented players, some of whom intend to play NCAA Division 1 soccer in the future.

According to the Butler Eagle, Mars forward Ellie Coffield verbally committed to play at the University of Pittsburgh while still in her sophomore season. Now a senior, Coffield continues to occupy a key role for the Planets, hitting a corner kick to senior teammate Erin Rodgers to give Mars a 1-0 win over Plum in the District 7 final last week.

“She just signed her national letter of intent the other day,” Bickling said. “Fantastic player. She was somebody we noticed last year who was just head and shoulders above the players that we had seen all year. She’s just a tremendous talent and obviously they do have several Division 1 players that are committed to play their freshman year in college.”

Looking back to last year’s matchup, Bickling recalled that the Planets were happy to push the pace on the front line regardless of offsides calls.

“With the talent that they have, they are sort of like us. They like to attack and attack in big numbers and just keep pressing the goal,” he said. “Last year when we played them they were really, really aggressive, to the point where they were called offsides quite a bit. But they didn’t care, they just reset and kept attacking the goal. I think that is their success, just keep drilling it at the goal until they wind up getting it finished off.”

As the Dragons have started to play teams of increasing quality, goaltender Alyssa Andersen and the defense have elevated their play to match the offensive core of Kyleigh Wilson, Kyra Wotorson, Georgie Bickling, Ella Ordiway and Paige Johnson.

Facing plenty of shots from Bradford last week at War Memorial Field, Andersen finally had the chance to show that she can stand with the best between the pipes.

“She’ll be key. She’ll have to have a great game and not get rattled, but I trust that she can handle the pressure,” Bickling said of his keeper. “Alyssa will have to step up and play a great game as well as all of the defensive players. They cannot slip, because mistakes and miscalculations equal goals against a team like this.”

Ordiway, who has evolved into a new role this year as a defensive midfielder, has battled through injury her past two games, but expects to be back healthy today.

“We should be good to go with a full squad on Saturday,” Bickling said of his players. “Ella has muscled through a couple of tough days where, if it was any other time in the season, we would have sat her out, but we needed her on the field so she muscled her way through that. She’s had some time to rest. We’ve given her and a couple of other players that had some soreness or injuries that were nagging them some time off.”

Bickling and his team plan to depart Warren at 9:30 this morning for the drive south.

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