by Tom Utescher
Arriving at Gwynedd Mercy for last Thursday’s lacrosse match, Mount St. Joseph Academy was coming off of a 13-14 loss to perennial Catholic Academies power Merion Mercy and, most recently, an impressive 11-4 victory over Council Rock North.
In the early going at Gwynedd, it looked like the Magic were going to roll right over the host Monarchs, charging to a 5-0 advantage with just 10 minutes elapsed. Many players on the two teams have known one another since their grade school years, and the Gwynedd girls weren’t going to give the Mounties bragging rights so easily.
The Monarchs battled back within one goal before the visitors scored the final marker of the half for a 7-5 edge at the interlude. Later, the home team tied the match, 8-8, with nine minutes remaining, but MSJ juniors Emilee Ehret and Dominique Nyzio proceeded to post the game winning goal and an insurance score, respectively, for a 10-8 victory.
The Magic improved to 4-1 in league play and 6-2 overall (besides Merion, they lost to a Georgia team during spring break), while Gwynedd slipped to 3-3 in the AACA and 4-3 against all opponents.
On a day when many of the Magic’s big guns weren’t hitting the target with their usual frequency, Nyzio, normally a defense-oriented midfielder, came up huge. The Norwood Fontbonne Academy graduate wound up with five goals and an assist, while Wyndmoor’s Ehret added two goals and two assists and fellow junior Olivia Gannon (another former Norwooder) scored a hat trick.
“Dominique Nyzio was great on ground balls, great on defense, and she put the ball into the cage when we needed it,” commented first-year MSJ coach Jen Duckenfield. “Emilee Ehret – I think she leads our league in draw controls. She’s just been a force.”
“Sometimes our best scorers just aren’t hitting it, so other people need to step up,” Nyzio said modestly. “We played fantastic on Tuesday [against Council Rock North] and I guess we thought we were just going to play like that the rest of the season – but it’s not automatic. Like Coach Duck told us, if we’d lost this game we probably wouldn’t have a chance to win the Catholic Academies. I think we got that into our heads and we know we have to keep working really hard.”
The Mount’s mentor agreed about the game with Rock North.
“It was the best lacrosse I’ve seen them play this year,” she said. “After that, the one thing I cautioned them against was playing flat.”
The Magic didn’t start out that way; Nyzio assisted the opening goal by Gannon just 19 seconds in. Nyzio and Ehret each converted off of free positions, then Gannon and Nyzio each scored a second time for a 5-0 bulge.
Two members of Gwynedd’s talented sophomore class clicked to get the Monarchs on the board, as Morgan Meehan tallied off of a feed from Jess Derstine. Meehan, who made smart decisions on the field and displayed a high lacrosse IQ in general, completed a first-half hat trick, helping the hosts close up the score to 6-5.
“We let down, but you’ve got to give Gwynedd credit, too,” Duckenfield said. “Even though they made it tough for us, I loved the way Gwynedd fought back with great intensity. We didn’t handle that very well at first; we got nervous and made mistakes. I think that overcoming our mistakes and moving on to the next play is something we’re still learning how to do.”
In goal, MSJ junior Alex Lista (five saves) sensed that the Monarch attackers meant business.
“They came back strong and you could definitely see in their eyes that they wanted it,” she recalled.
Fortunately for the Magic, Nyzio’s fourth goal, scored off of a free position with 1:54 left in the period, provided a little breathing room at halftime, with the score 7-5.
Two foot injuries, both of them stress fractures, have been hampering a pair of MSJ attackers. The Gwynedd contest was the first game back for senior Burke Brabson, while freshman Christie Mischler, also a regular starter, was unable to play at all.
The scoring pace slowed down over the first 10 minutes of the second half, with each side adding a single goal. Then, with 11:24 to go, GMA sophomore Noelle Buscarino drove straight through the middle score, and with 8:57 on the clock, Nicole Fisher came around the crease on the left, ducked past a defender, and tied the match at 8-8.
In time-outs and during game action, MSJ’s Duckenfield emphasized “composure” to her charges.
During one of the huddles, Nyzio related, “She said ‘There’s no way we’re losing this game!’ “
Lista explained, “We saw that some things on defense weren’t working for us and we were leaving some girls open. Later on, we double-teamed better and got more ground balls, and we were able to make some nice defensive stops.”
In front of Lista, juniors Meg McCabe and Lisa Roman frequently transported the ball out of the defensive third to get Mount St. Joe started on the offensive transition.
The Magic finally moved ahead for good with 7:57 on the clock, when Ehret put a free-position bounce shot past Monarchs keeper Claire Lacon (seven saves). From well outside the arc, Ehret helped reinforce the MSJ lead, feeding the ball in to Nyzio, who scored her fifth goal of the day with 5:07 to go.
Two minutes after that, Lacon made a tough save on a shot by MSJ’s Gannon, but Gwynedd was unable to score on its ensuing possession. The Magic got the ball back and passed it around to run down the clock, and the Monarchs, who needed to force a turnover, didn’t go about it very effectively. MSJ senior Laura Pacheco finally drove to goal, striking a post with her shot with 17 seconds to go.
“We hit three posts and their goalie made some key saves,” pointed out Duckenfield, “so if some of those were goals that could’ve put us up by more. Once we really regained our composure, I saw a change in the game.”