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Free Kicks: New season, but McConnellsburg still winning

The results are nearly the same.

The style of play to get to this point has been totally different.

Either way, you can't argue against the fact that coach Cory Houck has slowly built McConnellsburg into a consistently good soccer program.

A year ago at this time, the Spartans - led by a talented group of seniors - were 12-1 on their way to a Sideling Hill League title and an 18-2 record.

As of Tuesday, McConnellsburg was 11-1-1 - led by a core of only four seniors and a handful of freshmen - and plays for first place in the SHL on Wednesday night at Everett, which is 11-0-1.

The difference in approaches is significant, however. Last year, the Spartans simply bludgeoned teams, averaging 4.95 goals per game, scoring five or more eight times. This year, McConnellsburg is averaging only 2.53 goals per game, and it's only that high because it has scored 22 in its last six contests.

Freshman Landon Seiders has 12 goals, and 11 of them have come in those last six games.

"We knew we couldn't be as explosive this year, so we changed our formation," Houck said. "We're not generating as much offense, but we're playing strong defense. Last year we allowed 14 goals total and this year only eight so far, and we feel like if it's not broken, don't fix it."

The result has been a lot of close games and a lot of extra time.

The Spartans have won five one-goal games and lost one, plus the earlier 2-2 tie with Everett. Five games have gone into the second overtime period and McConnellsburg is 4-0-1 in those games.

Houck said, "That's unreal. We've had five games go into the second overtime and I doubt I've been involved in five total before this in my coaching and playing career."

MAKING PROGRESS: The 5-9 record held by the Chambersburg girls soccer team before Tuesday's game at Cumberland Valley isn't pretty, but the Trojans are 4-1 in non-Mid Penn Commonwealth Division games, and the division no longer has cellar-dwelling Mifflin County to beat twice a year.

And, the Trojans are a very young team.

The last time they faced CV - and lost 1-0 on a goal in the final minute - the Trojans started two seniors, one junior, five sophomores and three freshmen.

When they shut out CD East on Monday, the defense consisted of a freshman goalkeeper (Hannah Spangler), a freshman defender (Layne Kimple) and three sophomore defenders - Lauren Ocker, Emily Mort and Payton Guyer.

And the best offensive player is a sophomore, Gabrielle Lecuona, who leads the area and the Commonwealth with 14 goals.

"Gabby is doing well up top," Trojan coach Ed Franchi said. "She's moving well without the ball and the girls are doing better at finding her."

But the defense is what Franchi is most happy with, despite its youth. With four games left in the season, Chambersburg has scored 22 goals and allowed 29.

Franchi said, "Last year's team, with eight seniors starting, scored 32, but allowed 50. So I think our girls are getting better. I'm pushing them to keep getting better and I think it's showing."

The Trojans haven't had the best of luck, either. According to Franchi, opponents have been awarded five penalty kicks and Chambersburg has had none.

CLOSING IN: Greencastle-Antrim's boys soccer team is getting closer to defending its Mid Penn Colonial Division title, but it's still in doubt this week.

The Blue Devils, through Monday, were 8-1 in the division, Boiling Springs was 7-2-1 and Waynesboro was 7-3. The Indians played the Bubblers on Tuesday night and host G-A on Thursday. Greencastle also played Shippensburg on Tuesday and has one makeup game (at Northern York) on Monday.