by Tom Utescher
Back in their first official soccer game of the season in late August, the Germantown Friends School Tigers were edged in overtime, 3-2, by the girls of Agnes Irwin. On Monday of last week GFS ended its season against those same Irwin Owls, falling 2-0 in a quarterfinal match in the Pa. Independent Schools Tournament.
Irwin, the Inter-Ac League runner-up, came in as the top seed for the tourney and GFS was ranked ninth, but once again the Tigers gave their Main Line rivals a good run.
Despite a strong first half, the Owls still only led 1-0 at the interlude, and Germantown came close to tying the match numerous times in the second period before Irwin was able to secure an insurance goal with just over four minutes remaining in the game.
GFS senior goalie Caroline Myran, who made some superb saves in the first period to keep her club just one goal behind for halftime, said “Obviously, we were hoping for an upset, but I love my team and I’m so proud of them. Everybody hustled the entire time. We knew it was going to be a close game; two of the goals they scored in the first time we played were off of corner kicks.”
“I’m happy with the way we responded when we got down a goal,” commented head coach Adrian Cox. “I wasn’t surprised though, because this group has played hard the whole season.”
Runner-up in the Friends Schools League, GFS opened the Indy Schools tournament with a 1-0 win on the road at number eight Mercersburg Academy. The final setback against Agnes Irwin (which had enjoyed a first-round bye in the tourney) wrapped up the Tigers’ season with an overall record of 8-6-3.
Last week’s quarterfinal definitely had a playoff ambience, taking place under the lights on the artificial turf field at Radnor Memorial Park, hard by Archbishop Carroll High School. However, with game time less than half-an-hour away, the only members of the Germantown Friends contingent on hand were Coach Cox and junior back Grayson Melby, who had driven directly to the game site after participating in a squash tournament in New England.
The GFS team bus had actually left school a little ahead of schedule, leaving behind assistant coach Rachel Bradburd. She could have told the bus driver that the game was not being played at the Agnes Irwin campus, but without her on board, the driver proceed to the school in Rosemont and then had to battle rush hour traffic on Lancaster Ave. to reach the proper location.
Once the game got underway (a little behind schedule), the Irwin Owls were clearly ready to go and attacked from the outset. After their first rush, GFS had junior Greta Meyer penetrate into the Owls box on the right, but she was ridden straight down to the endline by an AIS defender.
The tourney’s top seeds came back up the pitch and got on the board with four minutes and 26 seconds elapsed. Owls sophomore Hannah Keating, known for being a threat in transition, carried the ball into the box from the left wing, setting up a close-range goal by senior captain Liz Spitz from a few feet inside the far post.
“We were sort of a little flat on defense at first,’ Germantown’s Myran said. “We picked it up after that, and when one of our freshmen, Hannah Hanson, came in, that got us going.”
Although Irwin still logged more ball possession and spent more time in and around the 18-yard line than GFS did at the other end, the Tigers made some dangerous forays deep into Owls territory. In the last seven minutes of the opening half, Milbourne came in from the left to launch a ball towards the far post, and soon after that a GFS corner produced a shot in the middle of the box by Meyer, but both attempts were foiled by Irwin’s senior goalie, Autumn Wedderburn.
A veteran starter and team co-captain along with Spitz, Wedderburn actually missed the first month-and-a-half of the 2013 season, still sidelined by an ACL tear she suffered last winter. AIS coach Nick Spillane was happy to have her back at playoff time.
“She’s a very good keeper,” he remarked. “She made two good saves at the end of the half to keep the score in our favor, and she made some more in the second half.”
However, it was the Tigers’ Myran who made the most spectacular stop of the evening right at the end of the first period. She was back on the goal line to guard against a high shot lobbed in from long range, and when the ball bounced off the crossbar, she charged out from the cage and dove to deflect a follow-up shot by Irwin sophomore Emily Fryer.
“On their first goal, I should’ve come off the line, but I hesitated,” she related. “So this time, I was ready to come out and get after the ball.”
In the visitors’ halftime huddle, Cox made several adjustments.
“We had Lizzie Becker [a sophomore] man-mark their center mid, Hannah Keating, in the second half, and she did an excellent job. She [Keating] just got away for that one goal at the end.
“On offense,” he continued, “we wanted to use Taryn and Greta on the wings, and get the ball to [sophomore] Sarah Walker and [junior] Sophia Linguiti up front. We created five or six really quality chances to tie the game; unfortunately some of those shots went right at their keeper.”
All four of the players Cox named posed scoring threats during the second half, and one of the senior backs, Rachel Allison, came up field to make a few runs into the box late in the contest.
Near the end, with GFS still pressing up in quest of the equalizer, Irwin came back down the field on the left wing in transition. At speed, Keating dribbled the ball into the left side of the box and fired across into the net on the right.
“When you push people forward you’re more vulnerable to the counterattack,” Cox observed, “but we had to go for the tying goal.”
Irwin’s Spillane said, “It was good to get that other goal at the end. We started the game fairly well and got the first goal, but then I think we took our foot off the gas. We just went through the motions a little too much, but we got the result and in the end that’s what tonight was about, moving on in the tournament.”
After the match, the GFS team learned that their second-year coach, Cox, would not be returning to lead the Tigers in 2014. He had already accepted a full-time post elsewhere for the next academic year, but didn’t want to distract his players by announcing the news before they were done with the season. He obviously enjoyed his time with the Tigers, and feels that he’s left the program in a good position.
“There are four seniors graduating, including three starters,” he said, “but there are a lot of young hardworking talented players coming back and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be successful next year.”