by Tom Utescher
Host Penn Charter scored four of the first seven goals and seven of the last nine in its girls lacrosse season opener last Thursday, but the middle minutes were dominated by the visiting Friends Central Phoenix, who survived the Quakers’ late charge and recrossed the City Ave. bridge with an 18-14 victory in hand.
It was the second official game for defending Friends Schools League champ FC, which had faced Charter’s Inter-Ac League rival Agnes Irwin two days earlier and dropped a 20-7 decision to the Owls.
Sophomore Hannah Fox, who played a key role in the Quakers’ late rally on Thursday, finished with four goals and two assists, and PC senior Lauren Matt (who is headed for Franklin & Marshall), fired four goals, as well. The other multiple scorers for Charter were junior Avery Shoemaker (who has made a verbal commitment to the University of Virginia) with a hat trick, and senior Leigh Steinberg (who’ll attend Dartmouth) with two goals.
The victors received five goals from Brown-bound senior Emma Dahle, and four apiece from Abby Crowley and Emily Tedesco.
The Quakers are under new management this spring, as Alex Casey becomes the varsity program’s third head coach since this year’s seniors were freshmen.
Team captain at Abington High School and an All-Suburban One League selection, Casey went on to earn All-American status as a defender at Gettysburg College. During her tenure with the Bullets, Gettysburg won an NCAA Division III national championship and appeared in the Centennial Conference finals all four years, winning in 2012 and 2013.
At the club level, Casey has been coaching with Ultimate Lacrosse, where she learned from a colleague of the job opening at Penn Charter. She has also done some substitute teaching in the lower school at PC this year.
“We have a lot of young players on the team, so I’m starting out with a clean slate,” the new skipper said. “We’re trying to put the pieces together right now, focusing on the basics. We’re working on fundamental things like catching and throwing, cutting back to the ball, protecting your stick. On defense, we’ve practiced some of the time without sticks so we get our footwork and our positioning down.”
The team’s seniors, in addition to Matt and Steinberg, are Julia Fleming, Lauren Flemming (unrelated; note different spelling), and Danielle Thompson.
“I lucked out, because the seniors have been awesome and have been setting the tone for the younger girls,” Casey noted. “They’re engaged and they’re still very willing to learn.”
After Dahle and senior classmate Kate Forest got Friends Central on the board last Thursday, Matt and Steinberg answered for the hosts. Following a third FC goal, the two PC upperclassmen each scored again to make it 4-3 almost 10 minutes into the affair.
A few minutes later, the teams were tied for the final time at 5-5, then in the last 10 minutes of the first half the Phoenix went on a 6-1 tear. The only break in the series of Phoenix goals was a marker by Quakers freshman Courtney Cubbin, who was assisted by Fox.
The tally rose to 14-6 early in the second half until the PC offense finally revived, which took nearly 11 minutes. During this stretch, Friends Central recovered almost all of its rebounds on the offensive end, and further boosted its time of possession by scooping up the majority of ground balls farther out from the cage.
The Quakers’ Shoemaker sandwiched her first two goals of the day around a pair by the Phoenix, raising the count to 16-8 with 9:46 remaining in the game. Matt then converted off a feed from Julia Fleming to give Charter back-to-back goals for the first time since the opening phase of the contest.
Fleming has a sibling on the team, Sarah, who’s two years younger, and another sister, Amanda, who is two years older and in her second season as a starter for Haverford College. Julia, who’ll attend Ursinus College, will see her elder sister on the field in collegiate competition, since both schools belong to the Centennial Conference. The mother of the three girls, Tricia Fleming, was a multisport athlete at Springside School in Chestnut Hill.
After Friends Central’s Crowley answered the Matt/Fleming goal to make it 17-9 with six-and-a-half minutes to go, the Quakers began their final push in earnest, finishing with a 5-1 flourish. Fox scored three of these goals and assisted one by Matt, while Shoemaker furnished the first goal in the string. Charter was doing things with ease that it had struggled with earlier in the day, such as controlling draws and winning 50/50 balls.
“It was great to see us play hard to the end,” Casey said, “but our goal has to be to start out with that kind of energy, and not end up having to dig ourselves out of a hole. If you want to win consistently, playing your hardest just at the end of the game isn’t good enough. The fight that the girls displayed is something we can build on, though.”
Junior Maddie Mahoney had eight saves in goal for the Quakers, while Friends Central sophomore Anne Pizzini made six stops at the other end.