Westmont Hilltop High School faces a team with a formidable reputation today in the 5 p.m. PIAA girls Class AA soccer semifinal at Shippensburg, but Hilltoppers coach John Saracena sees no reason to deviate from the strategy that has gotten his team this far.

“We’re just approaching it like every other game,” he said. “We’re assuming they’re very, very good. We will play a very controlled, very offensive-oriented game. If we go into defensive mode, I think they’ll take advantage of us. We need to overcome all the inhibitions that come from playing a team that’s won many state titles.”

The Jems, in fact, are six-time state champions who won the crown last year with a 4-0 victory over Villa Maria to cap a 23-0 season. But this year, coach Rich Finneyfrock’s team is only 17-3-1 as it enters today’s game. Westmont sports a 25-1 mark.

Saracena thinks the Hilltoppers can match up physically with this year’s Jems. His only concern is the mental game.

“With our girls, we have the skills,” he said. “The question is, do we have the experience to go out there and execute? They obviously have the experience. We don’t.”

Westmont, the District 6 champion earned a spot in the semifinals with a 1-0 win Saturday over District 4 champion Midd-West on a goal by Kelly Britcher with 36:16 to play in the second half. Villa Joseph Marie advanced from the quarterfinals on a victory over South Williamsport.

Those two games are significant. Villa Joseph Marie, the District 1 champion, is on the other end of the state, so information on the Jems has been difficult to obtain and Saracena has had to base his evaluation on what little is available to him. He likes what he sees.

“We looked at some of the other teams they’ve played,” he said. “They beat South Williamsport 2-0, but the team we beat on Saturday – Midd-West – beat South Williamsport 2-1 in the regular season and we beat Midd-West. So, we probably have a pretty good shot as long as we can stay focused and play our game.”

Some of the Hilltoppers are nursing muscle cramps and others are coming off ankle injuries, none of which the coach believes will be a factor. He is more concerned with those who are fighting the flu and colds, saying that may be more of a hindrance. Physically, he said, the girls are healthy. And, mentally, they are positive.

“I think I’m actually looking forward to the game,” he said. “The girls left practice in a good mood (Monday).”

District 7-3 Sewickley Academy (14-10-2) will meet District 7 champion Greensburg Central Catholic (23-1) at Shaler in today’s other semifinal.

The state championship will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at HersheyPark Stadium, and Saracena sees it as a chance to put this region on the state soccer map.

“I think schools in District 5 and District 6 tend to be looked at as nobodies when you get outside to District 4 and some other places,” he said. “They look at us as nobodies and give us no respect. We hope, come Saturday, we’ll be able to show them we deserve the same respect other teams get.”

Joe Gorden can be reached at 532-5084 or jgorden@tribdem.com.

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