by Tom Utescher
To say that the Germantown Friends School Tigers play hard right up to the end of a lacrosse match almost seems like an understatement in light of their performance at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy last Wednesday. GFS scored twice in the final 30 seconds of regulation play to send the non-league contest into overtime at 13-13, and after the host Blue Devils netted the first goal in the extra session, the Tigers scored two times in the final 21 ticks of the OT to pull out a 15-14 victory.
Germantown, which raised its record to 4-1, graduated half-a-dozen players from its 2012 roster, including blue chip recruit Iris Williamson. As a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, Williamson has scored a team-leading 22 goals in the Quakers’ first nine games, striking four times in a 15-10 loss to national number one Maryland.
The lack of a superstar of this magnitude has made it necessary for the Tigers to play very team-oriented lacrosse to be successful this spring.
Following Wednesday’s barnburner, longtime coach Katie Bergstrom Mark noted, “Everyone’s contributing; we’re doing a nice job of working the ball around and evening out our scoring. Our defense in the first half today was a little shaky, but they came on strong in the second half.”
After a series of scrimmages against PIAA schools and a bout that was cancelled due to snow on March 25, the SCH Blue Devils didn’t play an official game until the day before the GFS match. Last Tuesday’s game, too, was an overtime heartbreaker for the Chestnut Hill sticksters.
In their Girls Inter-Ac League opener, the Devils dropped behind host Penn Charter, 6-0, and still trailed 7-2 at halftime. SCH roared back to lead 12-11 late in the second half, then Charter (3-0) tied it up on the fifth marker of the afternoon by sophomore Avery “Goalmaker” Shoemaker.
After SCH hit a post with its final shot, the match proceeded into overtime. Quakers senior Kelly Kubach (four goals), a University of Michigan signee, scored early in OT and PC played a solid possession game to prevail, 13-12. Duke-bound senior Kitty Morrissey and freshman Mikaela Watson each scored four goals for the Devils, and sophomore Francesca Fabiani tallied twice.
First-year coach Allison Thomas noted, “These games have been hard for us because we have a lot of young girls on the field and they’re thrown into these tough situations where the games are so close. We have to work on supporting each other. They think certain players are going to get the ball and just take over the game, but really everybody on the field has to take some initiative.”
Over the first 10 minutes of Wednesday’s encounter, sophomore Maddie Aslansan was the only Blue Devil to find the net as GFS jumped out to a 4-1 lead with strikes by juniors Schuyler Nissen and Claire Schmidt and sophomores Greta Meyer and Annie Tyson.
Two goals by Morrissey and one by sophomore Sinéad Brierley pulled the hosts even at 4-4, but the Tigers went on another tear to gain a 9-5 advantage with just under four minutes left in the half. SCH got a sixth goal from freshman Megan McCool, then in the last 22 seconds of the first period Brierley fired her second for the Devils, and Morrissey captured the subsequent draw and went down to score. That made it 9-8 for the intermission.
In goal for GFS, junior Dana Schulman started the game and senior Lauren Shinn came in during the first half. The lanky Shinn and the smaller Schulman also split time in the second half, presenting a contrast in size and style to opposing attackers.
“They each give us something a little different,” Bergstrom Mark said, “and they get along very well and are very supportive of one another.”
The Tigers’ mentor is pleased with the smooth transition that rangy junior Caroline Myran has made from defense to midfield, while the team still is able to field an experienced defensive unit. In the back, Sophie Mercuris, Caryn Miller, and Katherine Walden are all seniors, and sophomore Sarah Kane’s speed makes her a good one-on-one marker.
In the opening minutes of the second half, GFS edged a little farther ahead, 11-9, then SCH took the lead with a 3-0 spurt. At this juncture, GFS called a time-out with 12:52 to go in the second half, but a little over six minutes later SCH’s Brierley looped out and in from the left of the cage to score.
It looked like the Devils were going to ride their 13-11 edge to victory as the clock cut into the final minute, but now Germantown broke a 20-minute scoring drought. The SCH defense was caught too far up the field as the Tigers’ Schmidt ran the ball down towards the right side of the arc. She waited until she drew the last defender toward her, then passed the ball to senior Anna Bezhaler near the left post for a goal with 29.4 seconds left. Mercuris captured the next draw, but down inside the arc the Devils checked the ball loose a few meters from the cage. GFS sophomore Grayson Melby swatted at the ball and it rolled past SCH freshman goalie Elsa Rall with two seconds to go, forcing overtime.
The standard OT period runs for a total of six minutes (played in full) with the teams changing ends halfway through. Just before they switched the direction of play, the hosts’ Fabiani drove through a double-team out past the left side of the crease to score, putting the Devils up 14-13. GFS seized the following draw, turned the ball over to SCH with 1:55 remaining, then got it back when the Blue Devils bobbled the ball out of bounds with one minute to go.
Germantown went down on attack and Tyson was awarded a free position on the right side of the arc, which she converted to tie the match (14-14) with 20.6 seconds to go. Once again, the visitors seized the ball off of the center draw, and with 6.2 seconds on the clock, Meyer fired the game-winner for GFS.
“We work on those last-minute situations in practice,” Bergstrom Mark revealed. “You can do all the skill work you want, but if you don’t have the game sense – like WE NEED TO SCORE NOW – you can have trouble in those critical situations.”
The leaders on offense for the victors were Melby and Meyer, with four goals apiece, and Tyson, with three, while in goal Shinn and Schulman had four and two saves, respectively. The SCH keeper, Rall, who made several tough stops against the Tigers late in the second half, finished with eight saves. The multiple scorers for the Devils were Morrissey, with four goals, Brierley and Fabiani, with three each, and Watson, with two.
Obviously, one of the tasks ahead of Springside Chestnut Hill is learning not only how to get a lead, but how to hold onto it late in a game.
“Basically, it’s discipline,” Thomas said. “It’s following through with the plays; when we’re saying hold the ball and stall, then it means hold the ball and stall, even if they see a girl open in the middle. You work on these things in practice, but when inexperienced players get out there in a tight game, they get flustered and things can break down. Just more playing time will help a lot of these things, as long as we’re committed to learning and improving.”