Phoenixville’s Steph Schellberg passes the ball past Villa Maria’s Julianne Bradbury during the first half of Phoenixville’s victory over
Phoenixville's Steph Schellberg passes the ball past Villa Maria's Julianne Bradbury during the first half of Phoenixville's victory over the Hurricanes in the District 1-AA playoff matchup. (Photo by Barry Taglieber)

MALVERN — Phoenixville's girls recalled a tough season-ending, non-league soccer setback to Villa Maria Academy last Thursday afternoon at the Phantoms' field.

The Phantoms dropped that one, 3-2, which cost them a higher seed in districts as well as a home game in the first round of the District 1-AA playoffs.

Nevertheless, Phoenixville entered the postseason playoffs as the No. 6 seed and had to travel to face No. 3 Villa Maria Academy less than one week later.

The final outcome turned out to be quite different. This time the Phantoms used two goals by Lauren Benner and one by Sophia Kopko plus strong defense to turn back the Hurricanes, 3-0, in the quarterfinal contest.

Phoenixville’s Bri Cooley blocks a shot on goal as Villa Maria’s Michelle Kinka tries to score during Phoenixville’s victory over the
Phoenixville's Bri Cooley blocks a shot on goal as Villa Maria's Michelle Kinka tries to score during Phoenixville's victory over the Hurricanes in the District 1-AA playoff matchup. (Photo by Barry Taglieber)

Phoenixville (10-7-1) advanced to Monday's semifinal round against No. 2-seeded Gwynedd Mercy in a game to be played at a neutral site.

Benner gave Phoenixville the lead at the 22nd-minute mark of the first half with a shot to the lower left corner of the net from close range in front of the net.

That lead held up through halftime, and then the Phantoms added two more goals in the final five minutes of the game.

"It's exciting,' said Benner, a junior forward on this young team. "We have a new coaching staff and a whole bunch of freshmen and some girls stepping up who had big shoes to fill. We came together as a team midway through the season. You can see the chemistry off the field and that translates onto the field. It is a real pleasure to play with girls you get along with.'

Benner tallied her second goal on a breakaway with just five seconds remaining in regulation time.

Kopko, a freshman defender, had given the Phantoms a two-goal cushion on a header off a corner kick by freshman Dakota Graham at the 76th minute.

Meanwhile, senior goalkeeper Bri Cooley recorded her fourth shutout of the year and first since three in a row early in the campaign. Cooley had plenty of help from her defensive backs and made four saves in the game, with three of them coming during the second half. The Phantoms also made her life easier by possessing the ball more at the other end of the field.

Phoenixville’s Lauren Benner passes the ball as Villa Maria’s kaitlyn Bettenhausen defends during Phoenixville’s victory over the
Phoenixville's Lauren Benner passes the ball as Villa Maria's kaitlyn Bettenhausen defends during Phoenixville's victory over the Hurricanes in the District 1-AA playoff matchup. (Photo by Barry Taglieber)

Phoenixville outshot Villa Maria, 10-4, but the Hurricanes led in corner kicks, 5-2.

Kailyn Angelo, Villa's senior goalie, registered seven saves.

"We knew the consequences of the last game on Thursday,' said Benner. "But we set our goals and we also had a game plan. We executed well. We knew we would be on an away field. But we wanted it more. It benefited us more in the end.'

"It's amazing to get the whole team to play like this,' said Cooley. "We had to be our team and play together. It's fantastic.

"Our defense did great. It was nice for us that everyone had a great game. Working together did it today. We all had each other's back.'

The Phantoms had to withstand the pressure applied by Hurricanes' standouts Michelle Kinka and Julianne Bradbury, in particular. Bradbury, a sophomore, scored two goals in last week's outing, including the game-winner on a 25-yard direct kick with eight minutes left in regulation time. Kinka is a senior leader who uses her speed and quickness to anchor the squad at both ends of the field. She will be continuing her career at Bloomsburg University next year.

Cooley was glad to be able to play with a lead in the extra-pressure situation of a one-and-done playoff encounter.

"It takes some pressure off,' said Cooley. "But we still played with intensity. You never know what can happen.'

She spoke about the earlier setback to the Hurricanes.

"That definitely fueled our fire,' said Cooley. "It definitely affected how we played and how much we wanted it.'

Juniors Lahela Worley and Steph Schellberg, sophomore Sarah Weston and Kopko provided solid support as defensive backs with midfielders Cecilia Knaub and Gia Tedesco among those dropping back to help out on defense.

Phoenixville first-year head coach Tim Raub was proud of his girls for bouncing back from last week's loss to win on the road and advance in the playoffs.

"You could see in the team that last week the girls were disappointed,' said Raub. "The girls felt they were the better team, but they didn't come out with it. We wanted to show people that on the AA level, we are going to be a force to be reckoned with.'

He was satisfied at the performance at both ends of the field.

"Lauren Benner scored two nice goals in the flow of play,' said Raub. "That is real nice to see from a forward. And we scored off a set piece with Sophia Kopko. That's playoff soccer - restarts and set pieces. We have to keep doing what we're doing. The girls are level-headed and are working hard. I am extremely proud of the girls.'

NOTES

Raub said the small playing field was not conducive to the Phantoms' normal game plan so they had to adjust their possession game to more of an attack mode with all the players becoming more involved in the action. ... He said it was the same plan Phoenixville had for the PAC-10 semifinal game against Boyertown, but this time out it worked better.

... Phoenixville senior Hayley Riley had several possessions, especially in the first half, and the Phantoms also got good work from freshman forward Kaitlyn Casiano and junior forward Katie Fritsche.