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Balanced York Catholic takes a different look into title game

The York Catholic girls' soccer team was very good a season ago, with all-time leading goal scorer Elizabeth Johnson leading the charge.

This year, however, the Fighting Irish could be even better.

The jury is still out on that statement — and it's a bold one to make. Johnson was a sensational goal scorer. Her 120 markers are an all-time high for both the Irish boys' and girls' soccer programs. And York Catholic did have a strong 2015 campaign: Holding a 15-6 overall record, the team reached the District 3 championship and second round of the state playoffs. Johnson scored a whopping 44 goals in her senior stanza, and added 15 assists to her season stat line. In short, she was a first-rate player.

In 2016, the team is having a solid year once again, with an entirely different look.

Last year, the team had two seniors in its starting lineup; this season it has eight, and 11 total on the roster. Last year, the Irish relied heavily on Johnson's scoring prowess to pull out games; this year, they have three players who have scored nine goals or more, and are more balanced from the attack line to the back-line of defense.

"We needed someone to put the ball in the net. We knew it couldn't be just one person," head coach Joe Nattans said. "You know, that helps us simply because teams can't focus on one person."

Senior forward Melanie Matthews, for example, has 20 goals this season.

"Last year, (Johnson) was that player. She was pushing us," Matthews said. "I depended on her — I set her up, she set me up. Now I just think we all push each other, it's not just one person. Even the subs coming off the bench from (the junior varsity team). They pull their weight. Everyone is pulling their weight."

The Irish finished this past regular season with a 14-6 overall record and won their first-ever YAIAA tournament game — a 1-0 victory over Northeastern. The team also lost competitive 1-0 games to Central York and Susquehannock, two squads that went a combined to go 23-14-3 this year out of YAIAA Divisions I and II, respectively.

"Last year we scored four or five goals a game. That's just how we did it," said forward Courtney Nattans, who has nine goals on the season. "Those numbers are lower, but it also means everyone is stepping up. We're team oriented."

And on Wednesday, the team will play for the District 3 championship against a Fairfield program that holds a 20-1 record this season. The game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium.

"We're playing on turf. That's our specialty," said senior forward MaCayla Welsh, who has put home 19 goals on the year. "Spread the field, play fast. That's what we're looking to do."

The Irish and Green Knights are far from strangers. The two teams played twice this season, with Fairfield winning both games — a 13-0 throttling early in the season and a 5-4 final later in the year where the Green Knights netted the game-winning goal in the game's final second.

"I think we're perfectly capable of beating Fairfield. I hope we do," Matthews said. "After this year, 11 of us are gone. We want this really bad."

Wednesday's game

Who: No. 1 Fairfield vs. No. 3 York Catholic 
What: District 3 Class 1A girls' soccer championship  
Where: Hersheypark Stadium 
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday