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PIAA Girls Class 2A Final Preview: Avonworth seek elusive State title in latest challenge against explosive Central Columbia

File photo courtesy Ed Thompson
PIAA Girls Class 2A Final

Avonworth (22-1-2 – District 7 WPIAL) 


Central Columbia (23-1-0 – District 4) 

Friday, November 17 |  10 a.m. |  Eagle View MS, Mechanicsburg

Two years ago, with numerous underclassman leading the way, Avonworth girls soccer team snuck under the radar, winning its first district championship, by stunning WPIAL section rivals and top seeded North Catholic in the championship.

In the State playoffs that season, they did it again, beating North Catholic for a second time (in four matches) to march on to their first-ever PIAA Finals appearance in Hershey, where they lost 2-1, to Allentown Central Catholic.

Head Coach JC Mahan saw that first run to the State Final and the 2020 and 2021 seasons as important building blocks for the Avonworth girls program, which now has become accustomed to success.

“Everyone on this team, they now only know that playing in this program, they’ll be playing in a WPIAL final at the end of the season, and playing into November,” Mahan said on Thursday from Hershey, where his team arrived a day ahead of Friday’s final.

In a twist of irony, the Antelopes arrived, and will stay in Hershey, where they played two years ago, despite the host site of the Championship games being at Mechanicsburg (Bald Eagle Middle School to be precise), knowing what to expect and despite the rigors of the season, are a confident group.

“(Everyone) feels good,” Mahan said. “They’re excited. Will get in some touches in training, go over some things, but they’re ready for the challenge.”

With an experienced squad, Avonworth has become a dominant WPIAL force in Girls Class 2A, once again winning its third straight district title two weeks ago at Highmark Stadium, with junior Fiona Mahan, who announced her commitment to University of Alabama earlier this season, as the team’s most established player.

The ‘Lopes have accomplished a lot in the past three seasons, but the one feat which has eluded them, is winning a PIAA title.

Now back for its second PIAA Finals appearance in three years, the ‘Lopes are gearing up for a challenge against high scoring Central Columbia, led by Ole’ Miss commit Kayla Keefer.

“It’s never easy,” Mahan explained.

“Especially coming out of our section, We faced a very good Quaker Valley team, that is young, and will have a lot of returning players, in back-and-forth 4-3 game in (WPIAL) semifinal.  We knew beating the same team three times in a season would not be easy.”

Avonworth also had to face a number of challenges against increasingly tougher WPIAL competition this year, including having to defeat a resolute Shady Side Academy side, 2-0, in both the WPIAL Final, and in the PIAA semifinal again on Tuesday.

The season began for Avonworth with non-section victories over two other eventual district champs, Freedom (1A) and South Fayette (3A), played another State champion, Canfield (OH) in a wild, 4-4 match in September, and it culminated in the sixth three-peat in WPIAL girls’ soccer history. Avonworth is only the fifth different school all-time to accomplish that feat.

The Lopes became the fourth Class 2A team to do it all-time and the first since Mars in 2012. Furthermore, they completed just the second three-peat since the WPIAL expanded girls’ soccer to four classifications in 2016.

With teams increasingly adding extra attention and making Mahan, senior forward Gianna Babusci has thrived as the team’s top goal scorer, putting in 23 during the regular season, and a half dozen more during the postseason, while they have typically controlled possession well and win many of the midfield battles thanks in large part to All-WPIAL selections, senior midfielders Emma Luther and Minah Syam.

That was no more evident than in the WPIAL final, when Babusci scored a world-class goal in the 40th minute and the ‘Lopes were resolute in defending of a pair of set pieces in the 80th minute helped Avonworth preserve the clean sheet in the district final.

Minute to Win It: Late Golazo, Set Piece Defense Secure WPIAL 2A Three-Peat for Avonworth Girls

This PIAA final appears to be a pretty juicy showdown between two teams that have been destined on a collision course.

In the State tournament, in three matches, Avonworth has outscored the opposition, 11-1, beating General McLane and Clearfield in the first two rounds before coming back to Pittsburgh on Tuesday night to escape with a 2-0 win vs Shady Side.

Central Columbia, District 4’s top team and the defending PIAA Girls Class 2A champions (defeated General McLane, 4-1 in 2022 Final), and have looked impressive in getting to the final, piling up an aggregate 13-0 scoreline in winning its first three matches of the PIAA tournament.

While Mahan has committed to Alabama, the Blue Jays have a talented scoring leader in Kayla Keefer, who recently committed to University of Mississippi (Ole’ Miss).

In her senior season, Keefer broke Central Coumbia’s career goal scoring record and earned All-State honors at the end of the season. She has led Central Columbia to three district championships and won the first state championship in school history in 2023.

On Saturday, in the PIAA Quarterfinal, Keefer had a hat trick, in defeat of Wyomissing.

“That’s why we play tough schedule,” Mahan said.

“Against, Canfield, they had a tough striker. Freedom has Shaye Bailey. Many of those games prepare us to play top forwards. Plus, playing against South Fayette, that was a team that doesn’t give up many goals. We know, facing Central, they don’t give up a lot of goals.”

The Antelopes will keep it light on Thursday, following a brief training session, they’ll opt for some fun at Chocolate World and a team dinner, followed by yoga session to wrap-up the day.

But make no mistake, when the ball kicks off on Friday morning, the ‘Lopes will be all business.


John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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