Verello has Ragdolls off to the races

Ryan goalie Alana Verello allowed one goal during the regular season this year. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Alana Verello doesn’t have to do much running.

She chooses to.

Verello is a junior goalie on the Archbishop Ryan High School soccer team, so her focus is on standing tall in the net. But last year Verello signed up to run on the track team, and now she’s one of the top runners in the Catholic League.

She proved that in the biggest race of the season.

“The cross country team told me they needed me to run a few races, so I ran two and finished 22nd in the Catholic League race, so I was Second Team All-Catholic,” said Verello, who lives in Parkwood. “I ran last year in track and I fell in love with it. Everyone says that goalies don’t have to run, but I love running. I did track, but since cross country needed me, I was happy to do it.”

Finishing 22nd in the big race isn’t the best run Verello has been a part of this fall. That would be the run she and her teammates on the soccer team are on right now.

The Ragdolls are in the state semifinals thanks to two overtime wins in the state tournament.

Three days after wrapping up a first-round double-overtime game over Villa Joseph Marie, the Ragdolls knocked off Mifflinburg, also in double overtime, 2-1, at Cedar Crest High School near Lebanon.

The game was played in terrible weather that included a lot of rain and a lot of wind, and at times, some sleet. It ended when Chelsea Ritter scored in the extra session. Gianna Rivera scored the first goal for Ryan.

It was the second game in a row that ended off a corner kick by Ryan junior Carly Walsh.

In the quarterfinal, the weather wasn’t cooperative, but Verello was very happy with the play of her teammates in front of her.

“I know I felt sleet, it was terrible,” said Verello, who made some key saves but credits her team’s defense for really taking care of her. “Today’s game after all the rain, wind and freezing cold, we were so happy to get the win. I never played in such a cool game, definitely different. It was harder than playing in normal fall weather. It was rough, but it was good to get a taste of something different.”

The Ragdolls are now bound for the semifinals, where they’ll meet Radnor on Tuesday. The winner will head to Hershey for the state championship. This marks the third time in school history the girls soccer team has reached the state semifinals.

Coming into the season, as every year, Ryan had its sights set on a Catholic League championship. Since that quest has ended, the team has turned its attention to winning a state championship. The Ragdolls have worked a lot of overtime, but they’re exactly where they want to be, right in the hunt.

“This is what we all want, we have great captains, but it’s a team thing,” said Verello, who is in her first year as a starter after playing backup to Emma Joyce the last two seasons. “We all have a job and we work together. When we do it, everyone wants to win. We all know we want to go far in states. That was our goal after the Catholic League.

“We took the energy from the loss to Wood and it made us push forward. After that, we really wanted a strong run in states. We wanted the PCL so badly, but now we’re putting all our energy in the states. We worry about the future, not the past.” 

That’s always been Verello’s attitude.

It’s the same stance she took when she was a backup goalie, seeing spot minutes when the Ragdolls had a nice lead or were playing a lesser foe.

Whenever her number was called, she took full advantage of the minutes, and that led to this year, where she was one of the top goalies in the Catholic League in a campaign that saw her squad allow just one goal during the entire Catholic League regular season. 

“I have had a good year, but without my defenders it wouldn’t be possible,” Verello said. “It shows in our games, we let in one goal. It sounds insane, but we had a really good defense. Everyone has a job, I do my job and they do their job.

“On game day, I get really intense. I don’t talk to anyone, I just get locked in. I just go solo. My parents laugh at me, I’m so focused, I think it’s a combination of nerves and excitement. We had an hour-and-a-half ride today, I was just trying to prepare myself. I think about the job I have to do and get ready.”

Whatever her pregame ritual is, it’s working.

Verello and her teammates are two games away from a state championship.

She is happy she’s experiencing this, but she wishes a former teammate was still around to help the team. Her sister Luca was a star on the team last year before graduating. She’s now playing at Lock Haven.

“In my spare time, I love hanging out with my sister Luca, who played here last year,” said Verello, who was a First-Team All-Catholic this year. “She’s playing soccer at Lock Haven. She would have loved playing these last two games because we haven’t beaten Villa in a while, she would have loved this.”

Like her sister, Verello is involved in a lot at the school. On top of running in cross country and both tracks, she’s a member of the National Honor Society and school ambassador. She’s two wins away from having a great selling point to potential students.

“Since the PCL ended, we’ve wanted to win a state championship,” Verello said. “We’re playing really well as a team. It’s something we all want. We’re working together for it.”