Winning back in play with Butler girls soccer
BUTLER TWP — When Steve Perri accepted the reins of the Butler High School girls soccer program this year, he took a giant leap of faith.
And he knew exactly where he was landing.
“I knew there was a core of players here and a nice young group coming up,” Perri said. “I felt like we could win.
“Am I surprised by the start we've gotten of to? Honestly? Not at all.”
He may be just about alone in that regard.
Perri accepted the Butler post during the offseason after leading Knoch's girls into the WPIAL playoffs on a regular basis.
Butler's girls have not been to the playoffs since 2003, the year they lost a 1-0 decision to Downingtown in the state title game and finished with a 21-3-2 record.
The Golden Tornado have not posted a winning season since 2005, entered this year with a 27-game section losing streak dating back to 2009 and won only three games over the past two years. Perri is the program's fourth head coach in the past six years.
He guided Butler to wins in its first three games this year — all shutouts.
“There was a different feel this time,” senior defender Tori Sawhney said of the latest coaching change. “When Steve first met with us, he told us we were gonna win — and he meant right away. He believed in us.
“It didn't take us long to believe in him.”
Perri shrugged off the early confidence.
“You don't build a program by saying you're going to win down the road,” he said. “You find ways to win now.”
The Tornado opened this season with an 8-0 win over Trinity. That was followed by a 2-0 triumph over North Hills, ending the section losing skid. A 1-0 victory over Kiski Area followed that.
Butler scored 12 goals in its first four games this season. The Tornado scored 16 goals all of last year and 13 goals in all of 2010.
“We were so happy when we beat North Hills,” senior forward Alexa Gray said. “We lost to them in double overtime last year.
“I like to think we have this program headed in the right direction again. I'd love to see it get back to the point where it's playing for championships.”
Perri altered the team's formation this season and has changed it during games. He's moved a number of girls to different positions during games as well.
Gray has been an outside forward, high forward and center midfielder. Rachel Weyand has played outsider forward and center mid, freshman Haley Michel center-back, center mid and forward, freshman Kayla Widenhofer right back and center mid.
“When Knoch played Butler last year, I saw them (Tornado) in a 442 formation,” Perri said. “I switched it to a 433 this year and have worked variations off that.
“A lot of coaches won't change formations during a game. I'll do it anytime. It's all about finding a way to get possession in the middle of the field. We'll do whatever works.”
And the girls are amenable to it.
“We know he's doing what he can to put us in position to win,” Gray said. “I just want to help the team win, too. We all feel that way. We'll play wherever he puts us.
“The transition with Steve has been easy this year. A lot of the girls knew him from Cup soccer. We know he knows what he's doing.”
Macy Stalnaker had three goals in the season opener against Trinity. Michel, Gray, Widenhofer and Weyand all had two goals through Butler's first four games.
“We're not going to have a 15-goal scorer this year,” Perri said. “We'll likely have four or five players with eight goals each. That balance makes us more effective.”
So do the play of freshmen like Michel, Widenhofer and Chloe Bowser.
“They are really good players who blend in well with who was already here,” Sawhney said.
Butler's record stood at 3-2, 1-2 after Wednesday night's 1-0 loss at Pine-Richland.
“Win 10 games and get to the playoffs,” Sawhney said. “That's the target right now.”