Perfect start: Women’s soccer aims for strong finish

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It’s been quite the ride for the Gannon University women’s soccer team — and it’s not over yet.

Gannon rallied from an early 1-0 deficit to beat rival Mercyhurst 2-1 in a PSAC game at Mercyhurst Tuesday.

Sammy Valloud scored the game-winning goal in the 81st minute to propel the Knights.

Mercyhurst’s Rebekah Reynolds knocked in her free kick just six minutes into the game, but senior Mani Brueckner netted the equalizer, before Valloud’s late-game heroics.

Gannon is ranked No. 1 in the nation and is undefeated at 15-0 overall and posting a perfect 13-0 record in Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference play.

The Knights recently surpassed the 2012 team for the most wins in program history.   The 2012 Knights finished 13-4-2 and advanced to the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional.

The only difference between the two records is the 2012 squad grabbed its 13th win in the regular-season finale; this year’s team matched that mark with five regular-season games left.

Following then-No. 4 Gannon’s 2-1 win Sept. 29 over Slippery Rock in heavy rain and wind, the brightest spot in the stadium might not have been coming from the lights at McConnell Family stadium, but rather from senior leader Brueckner’s smile.

“We knew coming in this was going to be our biggest test,” Brueckner said. “(Slippery Rock’s) getting national recognition and they’re getting votes for the national rankings, so to beat a team like that – they’re a solid team. They played us straight up and it’s just great to just see that scoreboard 2-1, that’s huge.”

Brueckner might have been smiling even more so if she realized that one week later the Knights would be tabbed as the No. 1 team in the country.

Gannon coach Colin Petersen said senior experience counts when it comes to success on the field and thanks to players like Brueckner the Knights are a force to be reckoned with.

Brueckner made an impact her first two years as a Lady Knight, setting the single season record with 13 assists her freshman year, before tying her mark one year later. The Valenica, Pa., native currently has 42 assists, making her Gannon’s all-time leader.

Brueckner played high school soccer just a short trip down Interstate 79 at Mars. While at Mars, she had 36 goals and 42 assists to lead her squad to a PIAA Class AA title as a senior in 2011.

Brueckner isn’t the only Gannon player to play for a state title.

A little closer to home, freshman Morgan Putnam went to school only a few miles from Gannon’s campus at Erie’s Villa Maria Academy.

During her senior year, Putnam and the Victors went to the PIAA Class AA title match, falling to Villa Joseph Marie, 1-0.

Despite her success on the field, playing soccer wasn’t always on the top of Putnam’s list.

In October of 2014 Putnam verbally committed to Division II West Liberty on a full basketball scholarship, but this summer the freshaman had a change of heart.

Following District 10’s City-County All-Star soccer game in July, Putnam announced to a local TV station that she would be taking her talents to Gannon to play soccer.

The transition for Putnam wasn’t tough, as she made an impact right away for Gannon. Her high school coach, Afrim Latifi, a former soccer standout out at Gannon from 2007-2010, isn’t surprised that’s the case.

“I think she is adjusting well,” Latifi said. “When she made the transition to play soccer instead of basketball her first thought was Gannon and she fit right in with the style of play and her play as well.”

Putman was unavailable for comment on Friday due to team reasons.

Putnam scored Gannon’s eventual game-winning goal in a 3-1 win over Lock Haven on Sept. 9, before she followed with another game-clinching goal in the next match in a 1-0 shutout of Kutztown.

Senior midfielder Kaitlyn Kissell, who played with Putnam at Villa, said the play of Putnam and the underclassmen is what is giving this Gannon team an edge.

“I played with Morgan through club and Villa and I know she is a great player and to see her succeed at such a high a level is amazing,” Kissell said.

“The underclassmen, I don’t think they look at themselves as underclassmen and we don’t either. We expect the same thing out of them as we expect from ourselves.”

Petersen said the play of his freshmen is huge for his squad this season.

“Nicole Felice has been unbelieve for us,” Petersen said about the freshman defender from Cleveland. “She still has a little bit to learn on defense, but she is a big part to why we aren’t giving up goals.”

Brucekner might have a state title under her belt and Putnam might have a sense of what a title game feels like, but Gannon is searching for something bigger — a PSAC championship, something Gannon hasn’t won in its history.

But just because the No. 1-ranked Knights are undefeated, Petersen reminds his club there is still work left.

“Our coach always tells us we have to remember that victories aren’t just going to be handed to us, we have to earn them,” Genetin said.

The mythical target on Gannon’s back is a way for Petersen to prime his squad and gear them up for every contest.

“(Oct. 7) we played Clarion and they made things very difficult for us,” Petersen said. “Moving forward it might help us, because we have to rise to our level for every single game. Whether we are playing one of the top-ranked teams or not, we just have to be consistent from this point on until the end of the season.”

 

 

DOMINIC SANSONE

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