LEHMAN TWP. — Dallas’ Nikki Pekarski began her head coaching career this season by borrowing one of Penn State coach James Franklin’s motivational techniques.
She wrote #opportunityisnowhere on a poster board. The team misread it as “opportunity is nowhere,” instead of “opportunity is now here.” The slogan, which Franklin adopted from his own coach when he was in college, became a rallying point for the Mountaineers, who won their first district title in three seasons.
But opportunities were few and far between for Dallas in a 1-0 loss to East Pennsboro on Wednesday evening in the first round of the PIAA Class 3A girls soccer tournament. The Panthers advance to play Villa Joseph Marie in the quarterfinals on Saturday.
“It was a hell of a season,” Pekarski said. “One of our goals was a district title. I told the girls anything after that is a bonus.”
Snow postponed the match on Tuesday just before kickoff at Lake-Lehman High School. East Pennsboro (23-1) showed no signs of stiffness from spending the past two days on a bus.
Kasi Brown scored the lone tally of the game on a loose ball into the box in the 17th minute. Dallas goalkeeper Rachel Nelligan found herself short of retrieving the ball, and Brown corralled it before sending a shot into the net.
“I don’t know if she didn’t come out strong enough, and that girl easily tapped it in and it went in,” Pekarski said. “Unfortunately, when you get mistakes like that, it’s really hard to get back from that.”
After a monotonous first half largely spent between the two 20-yard lines, Nelligan was called upon to make two stops to keep the Panthers with one goal. In the 43rd, she beat Hannah Young to the ball on a breakaway chance, sending her helicoptering to the black turf. Twelve minutes later, she made one of her five saves on a 19-yard direct kick from Young.
Dallas (14-1-1) squandered its limited scoring chances. In the 45th minute, Sam Mazula and Ali Francis each had shots blocked off of back-to-back corner kicks. Francis rifled a shot that was stopped by a defender’s face and took an unlucky bounce away from goal.
Later, in the 61st minute, Francis sent a 25-yard through ball that set up an open lane for Emma Sweitzer toward the goal. East Pennsboro defender Alex Houdeshell hustled back to force the ball to Sweitzer’s left foot before kicking it away.
“I felt like we pressured them the whole half,” Pekarski said. “We kept them on their shoes, nervous. I really thought one of them were going to go in.
“Unfortunately, there were a few that had unlucky bounces that didn’t go our way. Or when they went to control the ball it would go the other way. You can’t always get those plays.”
Dallas had one last scoring chance in the 77th minute. Sweitzer broke a pair of tackles and sent a cross from left end line. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, no one was able to control possession and get a shot.
The loss ends the high school careers of 10 Dallas players. Nelligan, Nora Brown, Mazula, Olivia Kimmerle, Hollie Holthaus and Gabriela Ramirez started their final game in a light blue jersey.
“Next season, there are positions to fill,” Pekarski said. “I expect tough competition because there are girls on the bench that are ready and want to be in that game for a district title. It leaves a big mark.”
PIAA Class 3A first round
East Pennsboro 1, Dallas 0
First half — 1. EP, Kasi Brown, 17th minute.
Shots — EP 6; DAL 6. Saves — EP 5 (Alyssa Miller); DAL 5 (Rachel Nelligan). Corner kicks — EP 5; DAL 4.