DOWNINGTOWN — Coming off a season marred by injuries to key players, Downingtown East slipped from its perch on top of the Ches-Mont League National Division girls soccer standings in 2012.
On Tuesday evening, the Cougars regained their spot at the head of the pack as Linnea Faccenda scored four times — three in the first half — to fuel a 5-2 victory over West Chester East at DiSerafino Stadium.
The victory allowed East (11-1, 13-2) to clinch the Ches-Mont National with two league games remaining (Thursday at Octorara, Friday at Great Valley). The title is the first for the Cougars since winning back-to back crowns in 2010-2011.
"It's a great win,' said Downingtown East coach Craig Reed. "It's always tough against any of the West Chesters, especially West Chester East, they're well coached and it's always a tough game. We were fortunate to get a few goals early.'
The championship is especially sweet for Faccenda, who was one of the key players injured last season.
"It feels amazing,' she said. "Last year, watching it, I just wanted it so bad. It's been amazing to come back even stronger than before and play my last year at Downingtown East.'
The Cougars got off to another quick start, just two minutes in, Faccenda was fouled about 25 yards from goal. She popped and quickly played a free kick that beat goalie Alex Schmied, but banged off the crossbar.
Nearly eight minutes into the first half, Downingtown East sophomore Lauren Pittman latched onto a pass and sprinted into the box and lofted a shot past Schmied and nestled it into the left corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
"It was exciting.' Pittman said of her goal.
Faccenda got on the ball eight minutes later as she poked a long ball by Schmied at the top of the penalty area and the ball snuck into the net before a defender could sweep it away.
The Vikings (8-3-1) had their share of chances during the first 20 minutes and got on the board as Shannon Moore's corner kick floated to the back post where Maddie Steinmetz was there to knock it in and cut the deficit in half.
"I though we finished an opportunity where a couple had eluded us early on, so yeah, I thought we were going to turn the tide,' said West Chester East coach John Barry.
The Cougars restored their two-goal supremacy seconds later. Faccenda hit the crossbar a second time with a free kick. Nicole Caston was alone in front to turn the carom into a goal for a 3-1 lead.
The lead grew to 4-1 with 3:44 left as Faccenda recorded her second of the night with a top-class free kick, following a handball on the Vikings, that beat a diving Schmied low to the right side.
"That comes from practicing every day. Craig and (assistant coach) Neil (Gallagher) taught me so much,' said Faccenda. "I've learned a lot about free kicks and how to strike them.'
She completed her hat trick moments before the break after her shot took a deflection and settled into the net.
Faccenda notched her fourth goal late in the second half to complete the scoring. She now has 30 goals on the season and it's her sixth game with three or more goals.
The Vikings came out stronger after the intermission, as Moore tested goalie Kaelyn Johns early, forcing her into a diving save.
"I don't think we played all that bad,' said Barry. "We has our opportunities just like they did, they finished theirs and we didn't. I don't think the game was an actual 7-2 game in my opinion.'
Then Steinmetz got her second as her effort from in close went through the hands of Johns and into the net.
"She's played real hard and was phenomenal for us,' Barry added. "She played well on both ends, defensively and playing midfield.'
The Cougars have a tough stretch where they play games in three consecutive days, then they'll see where their District 1 playoff road will lead them.
We're trying to stay positive for our last couple of games,' said Reed. "Everybody is excited for the playoffs.'
Downingtown East 7, W.C. East 2
W.C. East 1 1—2
Downingtown East 5 2—7
W.C. East goals: Steinmetz 2.
Downingtown East goals: Faccenda 4, Pittman 2, Caston.
Goalie saves: Schmied (WCE) 6; Johns (DE) 5.