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Healthy and Hungry: Clarion Girls Soccer Team Has Withstood Rash of Injuries to Reach Class A Semifinal

CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Alex Leadbetter tumbled to the soccer pitch and slammed her head on the ground. 


Thousands of tiny points of light erupted in her vision. She was disoriented. She was concussed. 

(Above, Clarion sophomore striker Alex Leadbetter scored three goals in the Bobcats’ 5-2 win over Port Allegany Monda/photo by Maria Wilson)

It took the sophomore on the Clarion girls soccer team nearly a month to get cleared to play again. During that time, more Bobcat players succumbed to major injuries. 

At one point, Clarion was without six of its 11 starters. 

“It wasn’t the typical rolled ankles or muscle fatigue or anything like that. It was concussions, significant injuries, and it kept some key players out for weeks at a time,” said Clarion girls soccer coach Chris Schonbachler. 

That’s why the coach felt his team was better than their No. 5 and final seed in the District 9 Class A playoffs. 

Clarion proved that Monday night with a 5-2 win at Port Allegany to earn a date at top-seeded Brockway in the district semifinals.

Leadbetter scored three goals in that victory, which featured all 11 starters back on the pitch together again for one of the few times this season.

Leadbetter could hardly explain the feeling. 

“It felt really good,” she said. “It was … it just was …”


“Yes,” Leadbetter said, laughing. 

The sophomore striker also knew Clarion was better than some of lopsided losses the Bobcats endured this season.

Clarion played a difficult slate of games, sparring against the likes of Karns City and Clearfield, the two best 2A teams in the district, as well as DuBois.

Clarion was blown out by those teams — and a few others — but Leadbetter said she and her teammates were never discouraged. 

“Yeah, it was hard at times, losing by those scores, but we just had to keep in mind that they are bigger schools,” Leadbetter said. “We actually did pretty well at times against them. Our coaches also helped us keep our heads up. They just made sure we weren’t getting down and we didn’t worry about the score.”

Leadbetter hopes taking those lumps pays off in the semifinals Thursday at Brockway. 

“I’m excited, but nervous,” she said. “But I think we can win it.”

Clarion has certainly played better with Leadbetter and the injured starters back on the pitch. 

Leadbetter was filling up the back of the net before her concussion in mid-September. When she returned, she picked up where she left off and showed how dangerous she is with the ball on her feet against the Gators in the playoff victory.

“You know, she started off the season scoring a couple goals per game, and then she was out for a few weeks with with injury,” Schonbachler said. “To see her come back, get right back into it and then start putting in goals right away again, that was a great sign for us.”

Goalkeeper Chesney Boggess and senior co-captain Eveyln Lerch also missed time with concussions. 

The rash of them, Leadbetter said, can be attributed to Clarion’s aggressive, physical style — a style the Bobcats have no intention of changing. 

“We just really play hard all the time,” Leadbetter said. “When we’re all together, we play really well.”

Clarion, however, won’t have everyone together against Brockway. Senior Ruby Smith won’t be able to play for the Bobcats because she will be playing volleyball for Clarion-Limestone instead Thursday night. 

Because C-L doesn’t have a girls soccer team of its own, Smith plays for Clarion. Usually conflicts are few and far between, but in these playoffs, Smith has a big one. 

Smith had to make a choice. Volleyball is her No. 1 sports, so she decided to play for the Lions.

“It’s so hard,” Smith said. “I love both teams so much, so I’m going to go out and play volleyball Thursday and hopefully we’ll win to make missing the soccer game worth it. It makes me work and play harder.”

Smith has been doing both throughout high school. This is the first time, though, she’s had a playoff soccer and volleyball match on the same day. 

While she’s on the volleyball court at Johnsonburg, she’s going to try not to think about what’s going on the soccer field at Brockway.

“I just have to block that out of my mind,” Smith said. “They’ve played some games without me this year, so they’re used to it. I think they’ll do really well, hopefully pull out a win.”

Last year Clarion won its first-ever playoff game and now they have postseason victories in back-to-back seasons. 

Leadbetter is happy to be a part of a program that is building toward making winning playoff games a perennial thing. 

“We’re a pretty young team, but we do have some good seniors who we are going to lose,” she said.  “We’re going to have to keep stepping it up. We have to keep the energy up.

“I am just really proud of our team, especially with the injuries and people going out one after another. We’ve adapted really well to not having those certain players.”