South Fayette girls under new direction this soccer season
Katie Munnell enjoys many hobbies. She operates a small handmade décor and personalized gifts business. She loves spending time with her two dogs, Axel and Urijah. And, in her spare time, she and her husband, Nick, love playing soccer.
The sport is her passion and her livelihood. In addition to being a teacher at the South Fayette Intermediate School, Munnell is the girls’ varsity soccer coach.
Though she is in her first season as the Lady Lions’ skipper, Munnell has an extensive and successful resume. In addition to being a Riverhounds Development Academy U12 girls’ coach since 2006, Munnell has served at the helm of high school programs at Trinity (Washington), Palmyra and Easton (Maryland).
Munnell played three seasons as a sweeper, stopper and central midfielder for the Waynesburg University women’s soccer team.
Scholastically, she excelled at Penn-Trafford. A defensive MVP, she captained the Warriors to four section titles, two WPIAL runner-up showings, a WPIAL banner and a second-place finish in the PIAA.
This fall, she is combining all her experiences, both coaching and playing, in implementing a new system and a philosophy at South Fayette. While she outlined her objectives as “teaching the fundamentals and tactics of soccer,” her focus is to do so while also “creating a fun and safe team-building environment.”
She’s glad she has experiences to fall back upon as she attempts to start a fresh at South Fayette and keep the Lady Lions in the forefront of the action in Class AAA.
“Luckily I have experience as a head coach,” she said. “Change is always a hurdle the first year. It is a change for everyone involved, including myself. The players to learn new expectations and skills and I have to learn the school community,” added Munnell, who recently moved into a new home in McMurray.
By employing her own strategies, Munnell plans to keep the Lady Lions in contention for a post-season berth. South Fayette has had a string of playoff appearances in 11 of the last 12 seasons. The Lions finished 10-8-2 overall 2016 after upsetting Oakland Catholic, 2-0, and falling to Montour, 5-0, in the WPIAL playoffs.
“I hope to implement a possession style of soccer, utilizing various formations and tactics to suit the strengths of the players,” she said. “This will come with a little trial and error, along with time. Obviously we want to have a run at playoffs, but my main focus is on our style of play.”
Munnell will rely heavily upon her seniors to lead in imprinting her stamp on the program. They include: Maddie Burnside, Rachel Hebling, Emily Battistone, Lexie Brown, Lexie Keeling, Haley Kosar, Brenna McGuire, and Autumn Heineman. All have been key contributors in the past.
McGuire scored seven times and collected seven assists last year. Heineman posted six goals while Hebling managed four tallies and three assists. Burnside, Keeling and Brown were starters and anchors on a defense that registered eight shutouts.
Munell will also rely upon: juniors Alyssa Dudley, Faith Falick, Maura Gagliardino, Sara Meindl, Marlo Postufka, Delaney Terling, Helina VanBigger, Rachel Weis and Kareena Williams as well as sophomores: Ally Bennett, Julia Hornick, Clare Relihan, Sydney Stone, Abby Strittmatter, Abby Thompson and Peyton Yater.
Munell also welcomed newcomers such as Amy Allen, Sarah Dadey, Sophia DiMartini, Brooke Eisnor, Caroline Fleming, CeCelia Gagliardino, Vani Krup, Katylnn Kyle, Skyler Potts and Julianna Ruzza to her freshman class.
Before squaring off in the annual South Fayette Kick-off Tournament, Munnell said she has been pleased with the team’s training game and performances in pre-season scrimmage.
“This group of girls works hard,” she said. “They are accepting the change and expectations that I put before them. I think this is going to make the difference in the long term.”
Time will also make a difference for the Lady Lions. As the season progresses, Munnell anticipates the squad will improve in the technical aspect of the game as well as in its ability to see the field.
The Lady Lions expect stiff competition in their conference from Montour, which is ranked No 3 in the WPIAL, and Moon, which is rated No. 1 ahead of South Park. The Lions will be tested early as they host Montour on Sept. 9 and Moon on Sept. 18. The Spartans were 18-4-1 last year while the Tigers were 25-1.
While the playoffs are essentially the goal of all teams, the overall objective at South Fayette is the possession game, says Munnell.
“I really just want to implement a sense of patience and confidence this season, and this mainly starts off the field and then plays a role on the field. I want the player to learn a sense of discipline in the game. The players have been dealt a routine that is pushing them in this direction.”
NOTES: South Fayette opened the season with a 2-1 victory against Waynesburg. In the win, Breanna McGuire and Sara Meindl scored the goals. The Lions also tied Quaker Valley, 2-2, in the South Fayette Tournament. McGuire and Meindl again accounted for the goal scoring.