Last Updated: Thu Nov 23, 2023 - 12:39AM
Setting a school record in any sport is a significant accomplishment. That particularly holds true when it applies to a program like Yough girls soccer, which has enjoyed a run of success for the better part of a decade. Justine Appolonia’s career goals mark is just part of her legacy, and she’s since made notable contributions on the pitch at Youngstown State. Appolonia is in the spotlight for the latest edition of the Westmoreland Alum Q&A.
Appolonia joined the Cougars varsity squad as a freshman during the 2016 campaign. That year, Yough went 8-4-0 in the section, and qualified for the WPIAL Class AA playoffs. In the postseason, the Cougars bested Quaker Valley, but lost to Freeport Area in the quarterfinals, finishing the year with a record of 11-7-0 overall.
The next season, Yough posted an overall record of 14-3-0, including 10-2-0 in section play. In the Class 2A postseason, the Cougars defeated Burrell, but fell to Freedom Area in the semifinals.
In 2018, Yough achieved a mark of 11-6-0, with a record of 9-5-0 in the section. Back in the WPIAL 2A field, the Cougars dropped their first-round match against Burrell.
Appolonia’s senior year was one for the record books, however. She posted 32 goals, and dished out 21 assists. Yough went 10-1-1 during section play, and returned to the WPIAL postseason. From there, the Cougars defeated Highlands, Burrell, and Freeport Area to reach the Class 2A Championship match. However, the Cougars suffered a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat in double overtime against North Catholic. In the PIAA postseason, Yough fell to Villa Maria in the opening round, finishing the year at 17-3-1.
During her career with the Cougars, Appolonia netted a school-record 117 goals, and was a four-time All-WPIAL and All-Section honoree.
Following her graduation, she matriculated to Youngstown State University to continue her career on the pitch. She joined the Penguins as a midfielder in 2020, but the traditional fall season was cancelled because of COVID. Instead, YSU shifted to a spring season, as Appolonia started all eight contests, posting four shots. The Penguins played an abbreviated schedule against only Horizon League foes, going 1-7-1.
In the fall of 2021, Appolonia appeared in 18 games, including 16 starts. During that action, she posted one assist and nine shots. The Penguins went 2-11-5 overall, including 2-5-4 in the Horizon League.
Last year, Appolonia played in 21 matches, starting eight. She posted a goal and seven shots. YSU improved to 9-8-3 overall, going 5-3-2 in the conference. In the Horizon League tournament, Youngstown State defeated Wright State and Purdue Fort Wayne to reach the championship game. However, the Penguins lost 1-0 to top-seeded Milwaukee to conclude the season.
This year, Appolonia played in 17 matches, including 16 starts, as she compiled two assists and 11 shots. Youngstown State went 7-7-3 overall, and 3-5-2 in the Horizon League.
Justine took time following the season to field questions about her biggest area of growth while in college, the significance of setting Yough’s career goal record, and her favorite holiday.
Q: How did you evaluate your play this past season?
A: Throughout the last couple of years of playing collegiate soccer, I have learned to not over-evaluate how I think I played, because it usually led to only thinking about the negative things like the passes I may have missed or the shot I could have taken. With that being said, one thing I always evaluate is my effort, and I can confidently say that I gave this past season my everything.
Q: What was your biggest area of growth throughout your career at Youngstown State?
A: I think my biggest area of growth throughout my time at YSU has been learning to have fun in asituations and to not let others define you. Sometimes, the stress of everything that comes with being a collegiate athlete causes you to forget the reason why you play a sport, which is to have fun. This is something that I recently have focused on, and it immediately made a difference in my life. Additionally, I think everyone in their youth spends too much time worrying about what others think of them, and I have learned that being undeniably yourself is extremely empowering and allows you to be your best self.
Q: What team and individual goals did you set for this past campaign? How did you fare in achieving them?
A: I always try to set goals that I know are obtainable. Therefore, the only individual goals I set for myself for this past season were to always give my best effort in everything we did, to be a supportive teammate, and to think positive and have fun. A team goal that I believe will now always be an expectation for the YSU women’s soccer team is to make it to the Horizon League playoffs.
Q: What was your favorite moment during your college career?
A: Beyond just spending time with all my teammates, I would have to say my favorite moment of my college career was making it to the Horizon League Championship game in 2022. I knew when committing to YSU that it would take a lot of work to build this program into a team that competes with everyone in our conference, so for all our hard work to pay off was very rewarding.
Q: The WPIAL and Westmoreland County are well represented on the Penguins roster. Did you have relationships with any of your teammates before YSU?
A: Oddly enough, I did not have any direct relationships with any of my current teammates at YSU. However, my guidance counselor in high school is the aunt of one of my current teammates, and I played against another one of my teammates my senior year of high school when she was a freshman in high school.
Q: What led to your decision to attend YSU?
A: I know this sounds cheesy, but it truly felt like a home away from home. I loved the size and look of the campus, and I felt that the girls on the team were very welcoming. Additionally, I liked the idea of the challenge of building a program from the bottom to the top. Lastly, the sports performance facilities are extremely modern and have all the necessary equipment to keep athletes at their peak performance.
Q: What is your major, and ideal future profession?
A: I am a mathematics major, with a minor in biology. My ideal future career is either as a statistician or a data analyst, but I plan to pursue a master’s degree first.
Q: Aside from soccer, what has been the most enjoyable aspect of college?
A: Meeting new people from all over the world and just spending time getting to know them.
Q: You set the career goal record at Yough. What did it mean to you to break that record?
A: I think that was one of the first moments that I felt that all the time and effort I devoted to soccer had finally paid off. Additionally, I just think it showed how much talent we had on our team over the four years of my high school career, because I could not have broken that record without all my teammates. When I look back on those years now, breaking the record really does not matter, but all the memories I made do.
Q: What was your fondest high school memory?
A: This one is very challenging because it feels like high school was so long ago, but I would have to say when our team made it to the WPIAL finals in 2019. This was the furthest any Yough Senior High School girls soccer team had made it, and I finally felt that we had put Yough on the radar of other schools.
Q: If you could change one rule about college soccer, what would it be? Why?
A: I would change the new overtime rules. I wish that regular-season games still went to overtime if the game ends in a tie after 90 minutes. I think this will better prepare teams for overtime in the post season if they make it into the playoffs, while also giving teams the opportunity to win games that end in a tie in the regular season.
Q: Do you have any superstitions before, during, or after games?
A: Before games, I always listen to the same couple of songs that I would listen to when my older sisters were warming up for their high school soccer games, because it was on their warm-up playlist. Additionally, I always say a quick prayer right before the start of every game, which is something that we did at Yough.
Q: Who is your celebrity dream date?
A: I know this is very basic for a soccer player to say, but I would have to go with Messi. Not necessarily as a date, but I think it would be so cool to just have lunch with him and talk all things soccer.
Q: What is your favorite holiday? Why?
A: I would have to go with Christmas because it is the one holiday that guarantees I will see most of my extended family and spend quality time with them. Also, there is nothing more peaceful than waking up on Christmas morning and opening presents while surrounded by your family.