GFS senior tri-captain Katharine Cusick (right) looks for a path around ANC’s Myrta Asplundh during the Friends Schools League championship match last Friday. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

GFS senior tri-captain Katharine Cusick (right) looks for a path around ANC’s Myrta Asplundh during the Friends Schools League championship match last Friday. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Last Friday Germantown Friends played a much better defensive game of field hockey against Academy of the New Church than it had in the regular-season meeting between the two teams, but unfortunately for GFS fans, the Tigers came up one point short, falling 1-0.

The good news was that Germantown had advanced all the way to the Friends Schools League championship game in order to engage the ANC Lions for a second time this fall.

The top seed in the FSL tournament, New Church had triumphed by a 3-0 count against the Tigers back on October 4, but in last week’s rematch, a single goal scored with 17 minutes remaining in the game was all that separated the two teams.

Sophomore Kyla Rogers rang up the game-winner for host ANC, which raised its overall record to 14-3. The one loss on the Lions’ 8-1 league ledger (regular season and playoffs) reflects the parity among the FSL squads this year; the setback came against a Shipley School team that ended up in fifth place.

The Tigers (13-7 overall), who netted the third seed for the tournament with a 5-2 regular-season mark in the FSL, were able to avenge their other league loss in a semifinal match earlier last week. Going on the road to face number two Moorestown Friends, GFS made up for a 2-1 loss to the Foxes early in October by winning Tuesday’s playoff bout, 3-2.

Senior Sydney Weigert, sophomore Abigail Gard, and freshman Samantha Bruttomesso-Clarke provided the goals that got GFS through to the final game against New Church. ANC, meanwhile, had to go to penalty strokes to win the other semifinal, 2-1, against fourth-seeded Westtown School.

Heavy rains on the morning of the final match failed to saturate the properly-crowned field at ANC, and the game was able to proceed as scheduled last Friday. However, once play got underway it became evident that the ball was moving relatively slowly on the natural grass playing surface, and it wasn’t particularly easy to control.

The host Lions were the aggressors much of the time during the first 10 minutes, when they earned all four of their first-half penalty corners. Just past the 10-minute mark GFS got off its first truly threatening shot. Senior Katharine Cusick (a team tri-captain along with Alex MacBeth and veteran goalie Maddie Andrews) dribbled into the right side of the scoring circle and blasted the ball toward the cage, but ANC keeper Heather Schauder was able to get a leg pad in front of the projectile.

GFS stayed right with ANC for the rest of the opening period. The Lions called time out with 12:31 remaining, but when play resumed it was GFS that took the initiative and earned a corner in the offensive end. After inserting the ball to Cusick up top, Bruttomesso-Clarke took up a position near the left post. Cusick drove the ball back down towards the cage, but ANC’s Schauder kicked it away just before Bruttomesso-Clark could apply her stick.

The Tigers stayed around the circle for another minute before ANC was able to clear the ball out to midfield. Late in the half, the Tigers survived a scary charge by ANC’s Chelsea Dugan. She carried the ball with speed into the right side of the circle and went past two GFS backs, but she faltered as she tried to get off a one-on-one shot against Andrews, and the ball rolled out past the far post.

Germantown made a strong start in the second half, controlling play much of the time for six or seven minutes. At one point, Cusick sent a strong drive down low, but no fellow Tigers were in position to cash in on the scoring chance.

ANC weathered the onslaught and eventually began to spend more time in its offensive half. Penetrating from the right side, Rogers tapped the ball past one last GFS defender, then collected it again for a successful shot.

What would turn out to be the game’s only goal was now on the board with exactly 17 minutes left to play. GFS called one time-out with 13:14 remaining, and another with 2:39 on the clock.

“The girls were working hard and they were fighting a very intense battle,” said Tigers head coach Dana White. “The time-outs were to make sure that we stayed focused on what we wanted to accomplish, versus playing in reaction to what they were doing.”

Soon after the first GFS time-out, ANC sent a ball across the front of the Tigers’ cage from right to left, but had no one sealing off the play from the weak side. At the other end, the Lions’ Schauder made a nice save on a shot by Germantown’s MacBeth a few feet from the left post.

This occurred with seven minutes to go, and a soon after that ANC earned its last two corners of the day (the Lions ended up with an 8-3 advantage in that area). Only one of those restarts produced a shot, and that was turned aside by the Tigers’ Andrews, who would match Schauder’s total of four saves for the afternoon.

As the clock got down close to three minutes, GFS had a free hit into the circle, then on the first touch inside the loop the ball was popped up into the air for a foul. Following the Tigers’ second time-out, Weigert drove the ball solidly up the middle at the Lions’ cage, but there were no GFS players around the goal to go after the ball. Just after that the Tigers took the ball back down low on the left, and couldn’t quite squeeze it inside the post.

“We carried the momentum for quite awhile,” Coach White said afterwards. “As we told the girls, what it all comes down to is, when you have your moment, you have to capitalize.”

With a minute to go, the last ball Germantown hit into the circle was stopped and cleared by Rogers, the same player who had delivered the deciding goal for the Lions.

With only the PA Independent Schools tournament left on the schedule, White looked back on her first season at Germantown Friends and stated, “I thought the girls did a great job, and we have good classes of players coming up. I like the school and I’m glad to be here.”

A group of nine seniors helped the new coach settle into her new role this fall.

“Over the course of the season,” White related, “they did a great job of being leaders in terms of their dedication and their hustle. They set the tone for success with the underclassmen, and the underclassmen have responded well.”

To achieve consistent success going forward, she said, “More out-of-season play would make a huge difference. We’re putting some things together for the girls to be able to play more in the offseason, so that everything doesn’t just come to a standstill until next August. That gives you an opportunity to go into more detail in various aspects of the game, because in the regular school season you really have to condense a lot of things into a short period of time.”