By Rob Centorani
The Daily Star
---- — No one could blame Franklin’s girls for taking a victory lap, not after winning its first Section Four girls championship of any kind last Saturday.
“The kids in school and the girls are enjoying this,” 33rd-year Franklin girls soccer coach J.J. Laing said of his squad, which advanced to the Class D state quarterfinals by winning a penalty-kick shootout, 3-2, against Morris last Saturday at the Wright National Soccer Campus.
The teams played to a 1-all tie through regulation and four overtimes to share the Class D sectional crown, but the Purple Devils advanced to the state tournament for the first time via the shootout.
With basketball season just around the corner, the workload has more or less doubled for several Franklin players.
“They have basketball and soccer practice on the same day, but they haven’t complained too much,” Laing said. “I’ve received from a lot of people congratulations to pass along to the kids. We’re kind of enjoying this. The school is feeling good about it, too.”
There is more work to be done, though.
The Purple Devils (15-2-1) will play Section Three champion Poland (19-1) in a state quarterfinal at 3 p.m. Saturday at Fulton High.
And these Tornadoes are quite the offensive bunch. Their leading scorer, Mikayla Blumenstock, has 32 goals this season. Fellow forward Tara Siegle has scored 20 more. Those two combined to score all of Poland’s goals in 5-3 victory over Cincinnatus in the Section Three final.
Laing said he hasn’t seen Poland — its loss this season came against two-time defending Section Three Class D champion Remsen — but he’s been doing some Internet surfing and even called a coach for some insight.
“We’ve been working on cleaning up some mistakes we’ve been making,” Laing said. “We haven’t been making anything real fatal, but we have to be aware of those two. Between my four backs, we have to very aware of picking them up. Their midfielders try to get it to them. Then they turn and take on defenders 1-on-1. Having 50-some goals between two forwards is tough to deal with.”
Laing added that if he decides to mark Poland’s high-scoring duo, the responsibilities will fall on eighth-grader Paige Fairchilds and freshman Mariah McNeilly.
Franklin’s longtime coach said Poland also has a pair of talented midfielders in Paige Sullivan and Alyssa Lepper.
To score against the Purple Devils, opposing offenses have had to beat senior goalie Haley Downin. Earlier this season, Laing said Downin was the best at her position in this area.
“I feel more confident with her than any other goalkeeper I’ve had,” Laing said of Downin, who has 14 shutouts this season. “The amount she’s improved over the past year to the keeper she is this year — technically, she’s real sound — she’s just improved over the year. She’s physically tougher this year.”
Offensively, Franklin has relied heavily on junior Jordan Beers and sophomore Jessie Downin, who is Haley’s cousin.
Beers has 24 goals and six assists this season, which ranks third among area girls. Her most recent goal came in the sectional final against Morris. Jessie Downin, who has 13 goals and six assists, set up Beers’ goal in the final.
“With Jordan, she has a way, and she is usually heavily marked, even against a good team like Morris, of getting loose,” said Laing, whose team is 11-0-1 since suffering back-to-back losses to Tri-Valley League rivals Cherry Valley-Springfield and Morris in late September. “She can hit it with her left or right foot and on set pieces, she’s good at servicing balls.”
Of Jessie Downin, Laing said: “She’s a little one — a small kid — but she seems to just be all around the field. I call her our cleaner. When there’s a loose ball, she’s usually the first one to it.”
Rob Centorani can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.