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Marian, PV come together for soccer co-op

The number of instances in which comradery trumps rivalry between familair foes is limited.

Over the years, Marian and Panther Valley certainly fit in the foe more than friend category, as their rivalry has been one of the best in the Schuylkill League for decades.

But sports can also bring people together.

In the case of the Colts/Fillies and the Panthers, that happened during the current fall sports season. The common bond was the sport of soccer.

Neither school has had a soccer program in its history, and with interest continuing to grow in the sport both nationally and locally, Marian decided to field teams in both boys and girls soccer this season.

Marian started to formulate a plan to start varsity programs in the sport in the fall of 2020.

“We had some interest last fall, so we decided to put out a survey to see how many kids were interested. We also wanted to do our due diligence and make sure that it wouldn’t take away from any of our other fall sports,” said Marian Athletic Director Pete Sanfilippo. “After looking at the surveys, which garnered enough interest and seeing that it wouldn’t impact our other fall sports, we started to put things in motion.”

Adding extra sports at small schools in always a balancing act between giving the student/athletes more choices, while also making sure there are enough candidates to field full squads.

Knowing that, Marian took the next step to make sure that its numbers were sufficient.

“We contacted Panther Valley about going into a co-op with us in soccer and they were interested, so it just kind-of all came together,” said Sanfilippo.

Marian now has both a boys and girls soccer program that compete in the Schuylkill League and District 11 class 1A. The boys’ team consists of 13 players, while the girls’ squad has nice numbers for its inaugural season with 19 players.

Panther Valley has seven students that compete as part of the soccer program at Marian.

In fact, Panther student Ashlee Zimmerman scored the first goal in the history of the Marian girls soccer program. Zimmerman’s goal came in the Fillies’ first game of the season, which was a 9-1 victory over Lincoln Leadership.

“I think this is great for the kids, and I think there is potential for the program to continue to grow. I’m glad the two schools could work together to give kids the option to play soccer,” said Panther Valley Athletic Director Kristin Black. “This is something we have even looked into in the past, but with our budget constraints it just hasn’t been feasible.

“The cooperative agreement with Marian is going well, and I think we can see an even better turnout in the coming years.”

The agreement between Marian and Panther Valley is a great example of what to do when options are limited.

There has undoubtedly been fierce competition in all sports between these two schools for decades, but perhaps their most impressive battle has been their fight to make sure students from both their schools now have the opportunity to go out and compete in the sport of soccer.

“The team has benefited immensely from the support and collaboration from both schools, and our athletes can’t be any more grateful to both the Marian and Panther Valley administrative staffs for making this possible,” said Marian boys’ head soccer coach Marcello Posada. “Both the boys and girls programs at our school have a lot of young players and a lot of players that are new to the game of soccer, but we’re working hard to get better.

“The best thing is that we have created opportunities for student/athletes at two schools to have a fun and exciting experience.”


GREAT GOLFING … The Palmerton and Lehighton golf teams had outstanding regular seasons in their respective leagues. The Bombers capped another impressive regular season in the Colonial League with a 12-1 overall record. They ended the CL season with a 381-455 victory over Northwestern Lehigh that saw four different players score in the 70s - Tyler Hager 70, Josh Suto 71. Connor Reinhard 78, and Dominic Kintz 79. Meanwhile, the Indians concluded a perfect Schuylkill League season on Monday, with a 329-393 victory over Pottsville. Jack Lorenz had a 74, while Aaron Miller carded a 79 as Lehighton went 12-0 in league play and captured the Division 1 title.


OPENING NIGHT SPECIAL … On Sept. 3, both the Northern Lehigh field hockey and Palmerton boys’ soccer programs gave their head coaches their first wins. The Bulldogs scored a 1-0 win over Salisbury for first-year coach Meg Leadbetter, while the Bombers rolled to a 6-0 non-conference win over Weatherly for second-year coach Antonio Orlando.


BIG ASSISTS …Setters are crucial to a successful offense in volleyball, and a pair of area team’s displayed that recently. On Sept. 16, Ashlyn Klitsch of Marian and Mia Ritter of Northwestern both came up big in their respective teams’ victories. Klitsch finished with 28 assists in a 25-13, 25-14, 25-13 win over Shenandoah Valley. Ritter posted 23 assists in a 25-13, 25-11, 25-4 victory over Catasauqua.


FAMILY AFFAIR … The Lehighton field hockey team has a special connection with sisters Gabby and Madison Brown. And, on Sept. 16, the Brown siblings worked things to perfection in a 3-1 victory over Northwestern. Madison put the Indians on the board first with an unassisted score. The next two goals saw Gabby setting up her Indian teammates. The first was to Briella Frable with three minutes to go, before the Brown sisters put the exclamation point on the win. In the waning seconds, Gabby crossed a pass to Madison, who helped the Indians secure the win.


CARDINAL CLASH CHAMPS … On Sept. 18, the Tamaqua girls’ cross country team returned home from Pine Grove with a team championship in its possession. The Raiders had five harriers in the top-20. Grace Stegemerten led the way with a third-place finish. Mia Jones (12th), Sam Plasha (17th), Isabella Jones (18th) and Ashley Jones (20th) all contributed to Tamaqua bringing home the Cardinal Clash title.


#TEAMTHOMAS … On Sept. 18, Marsha Thomas finally got to see her daughters, Olivia and Lorah, take the court for the Lehighton girls’ volleyball team. But Marsha had to coach Palmerton against the Tribe that day. The Thomas twins are double rostered, and that day Marsha had to also coach the JV game. In the end, the Thomas girls walked off with wins against their mother. One can only imagine the fun conversation they had at home that evening.


A FIRST … On Sept. 11, the Jim Thorpe girls’ tennis scored a program first thanks to a 3-2 win over Blue Mountain. It was the Olympians’ first-ever win over the Blue Eagles.


THREE’S A CHARM … Several area athletes have posted hat tricks - scoring three goals in a game - during the opening weeks of the season. Weatherly girls soccer teammates Kendall Gerhart and Bethany Houser were both able to accomplish the feat in a 12-1 win over Lincoln Leadership Academy on Sept. 11. Palmerton field hockey teammates Ana Recker and Kelsey Balliet each scored three goals in two separate victories, with Recker’s coming in a 6-1 win over Salisbury (9/13) and Balliet’s in a 7-0 win over Catty (9/9). Matt Sofranko got his for the Lehighton boys’ soccer team 14-0 win over Marian (9/8). Aryn Stivala of the Pleasant Valley girls’ soccer team scored three times in a 7-0 win over ES North (9/6). On Saturday, Sept. 18, a pair of girls soccer players recorded hat tricks as Lauren LeKites of Jim Thorpe came up big in a 7-1 win over Pen Argyl, and Nicole Zarayko of Northern Lehigh did it in a 9-0 win over Tamaqua.


ONE-WOMAN WRECKING CREW … Palmerton’s Brianna Moore has been showing off her soccer skills this season, scoring multiple goals several times. The highlight of Moore’s early-season scoring spree came on Sept. 9 against Wilson when she scored five times in a 9-0 win.

Morgan Brennen (3) and Ashlee Zimmerman (center) of Marian team up during a recent game against Palmerton. Zimmerman, a Panther Valley student, is playing for the Fillies thanks to a soccer co-op between the schools. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS