Katie Livingston made no bones about Fox Chapel’s intentions for some of the highest-seeded teams in the upcoming WPIAL Class AAAA girls soccer playoffs.
Fittingly enough, the Foxes are on the hunt.
“We’re gunning out for those teams, and we want to beat them,” said Livingston, the Foxes’ senior center back. “We’re going to do everything we can to beat them.”
In the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season, Fox Chapel knows the difficulty of this part of the season.
Actually, the Foxes know better than most: Two years ago, they lost in the WPIAL semifinals to eventual PIAA champion Upper St. Clair on penalty kicks. Last season, they dropped a pair of 1-0 decisions to WPIAL champion Norwin, once in the WPIAL semifinals and again in the PIAA first round.
“It makes you just keep wanting to come back and get more, just keep going for it,” junior forward/midfielder Sarah Sinnott said. “You know you’re almost there, you know you can get there, so you just want to keep working hard.
“You’re going to come into every playoff game with a chip on your shoulder, knowing what happened in the past.”
The postseason disappointments are in the past, but they continue to drive Fox Chapel (11-3-1, 9-0), which clinched a Section 3-AAAA title earlier this week and looks to cap an undefeated section run with a victory over Plum on Wednesday.
“When we lose those games, it’s really hard to lose them … but you realize how successful you were,” coach Peter Torres said. “When the team you lose to ends up winning state that year, you understand you were that close to that kind of level.
“It’s been great for us as a program to see the progress and to see the progression into a semifinalist team and then the state playoffs last year.”
Fox Chapel lost three Division I players from last season to graduation — Annamarie Alfery (Akron), Deena DeBaldo (Duquesne) and Dixon Veltri (UNC Wilmington) — along with several other key contributors. DeBaldo and Veltri were all-state selections.
But after some early bumps in the road in replacing what was lost, Fox Chapel is playing strong as it approaches the playoffs. The Foxes are outscoring teams 74-13, and their three losses came to No. 2 Pine-Richland, No. 3 Peters Township and Upper St. Clair.
“We had to learn on the fly because we lost a good group of seniors last year,” Torres said. “We’ve had a lot of girls that have stepped into roles. (When) there’s openings, you hope that they take it, and they did. That makes it easier when you have girls who are understanding of the responsibilities they have and understanding there’s a place for them, and then they fight to win it.”
Fox Chapel is getting strong senior leadership on the back end with Livingston and fellow defender Fallon Curry, who recently suffered a knee injury. Sinnott and senior Greta Lazzara lead the team in goals.
But Torres said some previously unheralded players are stepping up, including juniors Maura Curry, Sabrina McQuarrie and Lexi Schutzman and sophomores Claudia DeMartino and Blair Echnat.
While Livingston and Sinnott said the team is playing well, they want to tighten up a couple areas before the postseason — most notably the goal-scoring, especially considering the nip-and-tuck nature of the playoffs, when goals become scarce.
The Foxes advanced further each of the past three postseasons — WPIAL quarterfinals in 2014, WPIAL semifinals in ’15 and PIAA playoffs in ’16. They hope a WPIAL title, which would be their first since 1985, can become the next step.
“Girls who have had that experience, that varsity time, in playoffs like that, they’re the ones that have to help the underclassmen prepare for it because (playoffs) is such a mental game,” Livingston said. “Yes, the games are physical and hard, but the whole atmosphere is different than any varsity game they’ve played in up until that point. We need to just keep working harder and keep thinking about what we’ve done in past years to keep going further and further in the playoffs.”