IRWIN — As Angie Fenush walked off the field Saturday afternoon, she began to put an impassioned girls soccer season in perspective.
The West Branch coach thought about her close-knit players, her heavy-hearted and courageous goalkeeper, and her all-time leading goal scorer.
Their impact on the program is boundless.
A 7-1 loss to WPIAL champion Greensburg Central Catholic (18-0) brought finality to a historic run by the Lady Warriors (18-3), who fell in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals at Norwin Knights Stadium in North Huntingdon.
Warriors’ senior keeper Sarah Betts, who made 15 saves, did not want to miss what would be her final high school game. But she had every reason to stay home.
Her mother, Sue, died last Sunday after a long bout with breast cancer.
Another daughter, sophomore Hannah Betts, also plays for the team. Support has poured in for the family. Soccer has helped the girls’ healing process.
“It’s amazing what Sarah did today,” Fenush said. “I thought (defender) Olivia Stavola also played great. Our girls tried hard and had some fun. It will tough to lose our two seniors. Sarah and (senior) Trinity Prestash have meant so much to our program and have been great leaders.
“A big thank you to Sarah and Trinity for the last four years. They are the perfect examples of captains, leading by example and they gave this program their hearts and souls. We were blessed to watch them grow and succeed on their four-year journey and we wish them all the best in the future.”
GCC held Prestash scoreless, an impressive feat considering she is the program’s single-season (46) and career leader in goals.
Senior Sam Felder had a hat trick, and junior Tatum Gretz had two scores for the Centurions, who will play Cambridge Springs (14-4-1) in the semifinals Tuesday.
“We knew we needed to start fast,” said Gretz, a Villanova recruit who has 24 goals this season. “That was our plan. We knew (West Branch) was a good team. We didn’t want to undestimate them. We want to keep going.”
Sophomore Sara Felder and freshman Antonia Stickle also had goals for GCC, which has reached the state semifinals four times in five years.
West Branch, which recently won its second straight District 6 title and followed it up with its first state-playoff win — 2-1 over Fannett-Metal in overtime — briefly looked like it would play close with the Centurions.
The Warriors cut GCC’s early lead to 2-1 when junior Mariah Hayles slipped a high-sailing free kick past GCC junior keeper Lyndsey Szekeley in the 16th minute.
But the Centurions followed with a steady stream of offense and stopped West Branch in its tracks.
Sam Felder followed and sophomore Sara Felder scored on an attack from the right side to make it 4-1 in the 24th minute. She finished with a high chip shot.
GCC made four of its first six shots on net.
“We came in with the motivation that if we came out early and played well it would start things for us,” GCC first-year coach Olivia Kruger said. “It’s better for us to start from ahead. There are so many big-kick teams in the playoffs. We have to work on our possessions and play our game.”
In the 28th minute, Sam Felder struck again when she rattled a shot off the post and in.
Stickle’s long blast from an odd angle went in far post to give GCC a 6-1 advantage by halftime, before Sam Felder took a cross from senior Hannah Nelson and scored again in the 47th minute.
With shots from all angles and by various players, GCC outshot the Lady Warriors, 27-2.
“It’s tough to compete,” Fenush said. “It’s the public-vs.-private thing again. They’re a very good team. They have Division I and II players. It was a great experience for our girls. When (GCC’s) players are playing on TV, our girls can say they played against them.
“This team played to the best of their ability for 80 minutes today. Sarah stopped more shots today than she faced weeks at a time during the season, and shots that were rockets. Stavola played a stellar game and really stepped up when the team needed something good to feed off of. And Mariah Hayles was money with the direct kick once again.”
Fenush thought GCC should have rested some starters and recoiled some offensively with a big lead.
“Why would you risk injury?” she said. “She kept them in the whole game.
“It’s tough to make a three-hour trip and have that happen. They were averaging eight goals a game and we held them to seven. Our girls didn’t quit.”
Kruger mentioned her short bench and said she was not trying to run up the score. She also showed sympathy for Betts.
Still, the end of the Lady Warriors’ season certainly doesn’t take away from what they accomplished in 2020.
“As coaches we cannot be any more proud of these 17 girls,” Fenush said. “All 17 hold a special place on this team. They accomplished so much more than 18 wins this year.
“The grit and heart they demonstrated day in and day out amongst all the obstacles they encountered were just an example of what great young people they are and how they will continue to be successful in more than soccer.”
Progress writer Rich Murawski contributed to this story.