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Super Seniors: Rams Croyle and Grenda led a soccer team for the ages


Same game. Same field.

Different year. And a very different result.

Central Dauphin squeaked by Pennridge 2-1 in the 2022 PIAA 4A girls soccer championship game in Mechanicsburg. The loss stung heavily, and Pennridge remembered the feeling.

“I think a big contributor to this year was losing it in 2022,” noted senior midfielder Liv Grenda. “We had a good win streak during the 2022 postseason. When we came into the state championship, I was feeling good and confident. It was heartbreaking to lose it.”

Nearly every 2023 Pennridge starter “played in that game so we came back with a chip on our shoulder: We were not, no matter what, letting that happen again,” Grenda continued. “I could look back at that 2022 state final and honestly have regrets of: I wish I had pushed myself further in it. We came into this year with ‘I’m not going to leave anything on the field.’”

Three hundred and sixty-three days later, the 4A championship in Mechanicsburg was all Pennridge, all of the time. Coach Audrey Anderson’s Rams (25-0-1) thumped Conestoga 4-1 to complete a year where many Pennridge matches were as competitive as a hammer versus a nail.

Pennridge’s success “had a lot to do with our chemistry, with having played together for so long, and the work we put in during the offseason. Coach Aud holds us to an extremely high standard, which correlates to the games,” observed defender Anna Croyle. “When there is a situation in a game that most teams might play panic, we’ve practiced it dozens of times.”

Pennridge tied Central Bucks East 1-1 on Sept. 6 and then started a still intact 22-match win streak. Only Central Bucks West, CB East in an October rematch and Conestoga in the district final played the Rams as close as two goals.

In the four PIAA games, Pennridge outscored its foes 21-1. That includes the final in which both Grenda and Croyle scored.

The seniors cap an extraordinary run: four division titles, a freshman state championship that both Grenda and Croyle admitted didn’t fully hit home at the time, a state finals loss and a vindicating state title romp in the final game of a dominant season.

“Something that stayed the same through all four years was the culture that Coach Aud has built. She does such a good job with that,” Croyle said. “The upperclassmen were great leaders our freshmen year. They took us under their wing and we were friends both on and off the field. In our senior year, I think we were able to flip it and make the freshmen our friends.”

“It was just a different group of girls than most teams see,” Grenda added. “We had been playing with each other since we were 5 or 6 years old, growing up through the same clubs and going to school together. It’s been amazing to see us all go through the same program together.”

Dayton-signee Grenda, whose 66 career goals are the most in Pennridge history, was named all-state by the Pennsylvania Soccer Coaches Association. Grenda averaged a goal per game this season, playing an outsized role in the “131” part of Pennridge’s outscoring opponents 131-6 this fall. Grenda’s career total would be even higher were it not for injuries and her Covid-shortened freshman year.

“When I see that Liv has the ball and is going forward, there is not a single person I’ve seen who can stop her,” Croyle praised. “I feel so confident when she has the ball at her feet that she is going to score. She gets a lot of credit for her goal scoring abilities but what people don’t recognize is how hard she works off the ball and on defense. She can play attacking mid or center forward, run all the way back to steal the ball and then dribble all the way forward.”

Syracuse-bound Croyle was selected to play in December’s High School All-American Game in Charleston, S.C. The 5-foot-10 defender played an outsized role in the “6” part of the equation, making sure that most of Pennridge’s games were clean sheets.

“Anna is the most calm person on the field. She is such a great leader and able to organize us,” Grenda said. “She is an all-around player. She can help offensively. She played the six and center back. Sometimes you get worried if the defender has the ball because she is your last line of defense but Anna is so smooth. Everyone is so confident in her passing, dribbling and 1 V 1 defending. She is the best you can get at defender.”

Six – not a typo – Pennridge seniors are playing Division I soccer next year with two more matriculating in high level Division II programs.

“Our scores showed how our connections throughout the field really complemented each other,” Grenda said. “We would have games scoring five or six goals but on the other end, we had teams that barely touched their half of the field because defensively, we shut them down.”

Both teammates are younger sisters from athletic families. “My brothers’ main sports were baseball and football,” Croyle said, “and I liked having a sport that was more of my own. But they played a humongous part of my success in soccer. We’d play pickup basketball in the driveway all of the time and that made me stronger and more competitive.”

“When I was younger, I played every sport possible but I started to lean towards soccer. I think a big part of that was my oldest brother Marco, who played soccer in college,” Grenda added. “I’d see him playing and I wanted to be like him.”

The journey as a four-year starter impressed the importance of team bonding on Croyle. “On the field, you can do everything you can and work hard on your skills. You also need to put time into the friendships and connections with your teammates because that is just as important,” she shared.

“The mental aspect plays a huge role and high school soccer taught me that. When you don’t want to do those little things,” Croyle noted, “they add up.”

Taking in the moment might be Grenda’s biggest takeaway. The exhausting double overtime 2020 title game was almost a relief when it ended. “Looking back, I wish I had appreciated it more. It did make senior year all of that more special to come back and finally win it,” Grenda observed. “We appreciated the time we had together because we’ll never have another chance to play high school soccer.

Croyle admitted letting her mind drift in the waning minutes of this year’s final. “The perfect answer would be ‘I was locked in until the end’ but I definitely wasn’t,” she said. “What was more on my mind was ‘I’ll never play with this core group of girls in this way again.’ I started tearing up after the game. It was very bittersweet, and like a movie ending, that we won.”

Super Seniors is a five-part series highlighting some exceptional area members of the Class of 2024.

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