JACKSON TWP — Mark Perry knew Ayla Ward’s production would increase, but Seneca Valley’s girls soccer coach admits he was a little surprised at the season the senior turned in.
A forward/midfielder, Ward found the net 25 times while contributing 12 assists this season.
“Her junior year, she had her back to the goal a lot,” said Perry, “but we gave her the freedom this season to move up, find the open space and create more scoring opportunities.
“Honestly, I didn’t see her scoring 25 goals this season. Normally, in Class 4A, you don’t see players scoring that much. But Ayla really came into her own and had a goal-scorer’s mentality.”
Ward scored eight goals and added six assists, earning All-WPIAL honors as a junior.
“I embraced the role this year, but I couldn’t have scored as much as I did without my teammates,” said Ward. “Getting more freedom gave me more confidence and I wanted to make the most of my senior year.”
Perry saw Ward, a tri-captain this year along with goalkeeper Mia Humphreys and defender Sarah Vescio, as a player who could take advantage of more scoring chances.
“She has the speed and aggressiveness and won a lot of battles with defenders while facing the goal.”
Ward chose soccer over gymnastics in sixth grade and has never regretted that decision.
“I started playing soccer when I was 4, started playing club when I was 12,” she said. “I fell in love with how it works. It’s such a beautiful game.”
A game that Ward will continue to play in college. She recently signed a letter of intent to extend her academic and athletic career at Indiana (Pa.) University.
“I just couldn’t give soccer up just yet and a Division II program is a good fit for me,” she said.
The Crimson Hawks are under the direction of head coach Noreen Herlihy, who took over in 2022.
“From talking with their coach, I believe IUP will use Ayla much like we did this year, an attacking midfielder with the freedom to be a forward,” said Perry.
Ward, who will study nursing in college, said she is taking away great memories of playing for the Raiders, who went 26-5-3 with her in the starting lineup the last two years.
“The girls in general, and especially the seniors, we all grew up together from the seventh grade on. We made so many memories ... memories that I will never forget.”