WHITEHALL TWP. — Back when she was making a switch to defense for the good of the team, Madison Woods received a prediction from one of her trusted Wyoming Valley West teammates.
She made good on it Tuesday.
Woods scored the only goal with three seconds remaining in a PIAA Class 2A field hockey semifinal as Valley West stunned the nation’s No. 3 team and defending state champ Donegal with a dramatic 1-0 victory that sent the Spartans into Saturday’s state championship game.
“I don’t know how that went in,” Woods shrieked.
Call it the smarts of a supremely-talented senior.
Woods, who just signed a letter-of-intent to play for Penn next season, took an insert pass on a penalty corner with time quickly ticking down and had an option.
“She picked the right one,” Valley West coach Linda Fithian said. “It’s up to Madison to decide. She’s such a great player.”
Actually, Woods decided to wait.
“The girl (defender) had a lot of really high pressure on me,” Woods said. “I was trying to stay patient until she stepped back. Once she went back, I pushed it in.”
That sent the Spartans (20-2) flooding the field with glee after reaching the state championship game at noon Saturday against Villa Maria Academy, the District 1 champion which knocked off defending Class 2A state finalist Twin Valley 5-0 in another state semifinal Tuesday.
The Spartans got there by avenging a 3-2 overtime defeat in September to Donegal, which had won 54 of its previous 55 games and was ranked as the No. 3 team in the country and No. 2 in the Pennsylvania/New Jersey Region by Max Field Hockey before finishing its season at 25-2.
“Donegal is a phenomenal team,” Valley West starting goalie Nikki Hartzel said. “I don’t think there’s ever going to be a feeling like this.”
“I could tell you one thing that would be better than this,” Woods said. “And it’s going to happen Saturday.”
It so happened that Woods, a play-making forward through much of her career before giving up her scoring touch to serve as a defender this season, fulfilled a late-summer promise by her fellow co-captain Foto Tsioles.
“It was in the preseason, and Foto said to Madison, ‘You’re going to score when we need it,’” Hartzel recalled. “And she was the one who did it.”
Woods did it all over the field.
Her dogged defense held Donegal’s 91-goal scorer Mackenzie Allessie — one of just four players in high school field hockey history to score more than 200 goals in a career — to barely a shot as Valley West’s defense shut down the Indians’ high-powered offense.
“I always like a good challenge,” Woods said. “I enjoy playing against people with great skill. But it was a team thing. A player with her skill, you need to have two people on her, and Rina (Tsioles) definitely stepped up.”
So did Valley West goalies.
Between them, Hartzel and Sydney Rusnock turned away 10 shots and staved off a whopping 19 penalty corners, many of them coming when Hartzel was in goal and facing constant Donegal pressure during the first half.
“Oh wow, it was tough,” Hartzel said. “But in the back of my mind, you can’t think of yourself. You have to do it for the team. From the first day of practice, we said this is going to be a championship team. That’s the mindset you have to have. I wasn’t nervous. They do have great players.
“But when you’re playing as a team, there’s no one that intimidates you.”
Not even an opponent who beat you before.
“I just knew I had to do what Nikki did. She played amazing,” said Rusnock, Valley West’s second-half goalie throughout the season who surrendered Donegal’s overtime goal in September but didn’t allow another Tuesday. “We wanted to redeem ourselves from that.
“Then Madison put it in and put the biggest smile on our faces.”
PIAA CLASS 2A SEMIFINALS
Wyoming Valley West 1, Donegal 0
Second half — 1. WVW, Madison Woods, 0:03.
Shots — WVW 8; DON 10. Saves — WVW 10 (Nikki Hartzel, Sydney Rusnock); DON 7 (Katie Jean). Penalty corners — WVW 7; DON 19.