by Tom Utescher
For the time being, at least, the girls on the Penn Charter soccer team found that their world had turned upside down.
Beiginning the defense of their 2013 Inter-Ac League title, the Quakers wound up in a 2-2 draw at Episcopal Academy in last Tuesday’s 2012 league opener. Worse news was to come on Friday, when PC matched an Agnes Irwin goal before halftime, but then gave up two more in the second period and suffered a 3-1 defeat.
Although last year’s PC club won the Inter-Ac with an 8-1-1 record and went on to capture the Pennsylvania Independent Schools championship, as well, that season didn’t get off to the smoothest of starts, either. In fact, if the current crop of Quakers win this Thursday’s match against Baldwin School, they will have matched the 1-1-1 record owned by their predecessors at the same point in the 2013 league campaign.
With Germantown Academy putting up some solid results so far, there may well be a four-way race for the championship this fall. It’s not likely that anyone will sail through with an unblemished record.
“Anything can happen, but we absolutely have to raise our level,” PC head coach Darci Borski stated after Friday’s setback. “Irwin worked super hard as a team. They played well and executed their game plan, and it wasn’t our day.”
Freshmen Giovanna DeMarco and Frenchie Pellerito had scored for the Quakers in the stalemate at Episcopal on Tuesday, while on the same afternoon the Irwin Owls opened the league by winning a high-scoring bout at Baldwin, 6-3. Coming into Friday’s match at Penn Charter, the hosts had an overall record of 3-3-2, while the Owls were 3-0.
Irwin had prevailed, 3-2, in the initial meeting between the clubs last season, but Charter had gone on to win both their league rematch (6-0) and a third game with Irwin in the Indy Schools final (4-0).
“We thought we didn’t do ourselves justice in that championship game or in the second league game last year,” noted Irwin head coach Nick Spillane. “Penn Charter pretty much ran over top of us at the beginning of both of those games, so we knew that today we had to stand up to them right from the start, and work as hard or harder than they did.”
The Owls thoroughly dominated play during the initial 20 minutes, and the Quakers were lucky to only be one goal behind after that early assault. It wasn’t all down to luck, though, since sophomore Mireyah Davis proved very tough in the Quakers’ goal cage, collecting nine saves before PC made its customary switch to freshman Mackenzie Listman for the start of the second half.
In the first 90 seconds of the game, AI’s Lydia Bartosh broke through the middle and got off a shot that was deflected by Davis, who also saved a follow-up attempt. Another rush by Bartosh resulted in another scary sequence for PC fans, and two more saves by their hardworking goalkeeper.
About 10 minutes in, the Quakers went up the field and sent through a pass to the area of the right post, but the Owls’ sophomore goalie, Kendall Shein (11 saves), came over to scoop up the ball just as PC’s Pellerito arrived.
Although Irwin returned almost its entire starting line-up from 2013, a notable absence was a highly-experienced goalie who graduated, Autumn Wedderburn.
“She was a senior captain last year, but she really gave us the leadership qualities of a captain for all four years,” pointed out the Owls’ Spillane. “To her credit, Kendall Shein [a new student at the school who plays club ball for highly-regarded FC Delco] has stepped in and quickly become part of the team, and she made some big saves today throughout the game.”
After the first serious offensive charge by PC, Irwin went back on the attack and earned a corner kick, and when Charter knocked the ball out over the endline, the Owls formed up for another corner. There was no shot directly off the restart, but the visitors kept the ball in the box until junior Emily Fryer could apply the scoring touch with 28:19 remaining in the first half.
PC’s Borski remarked later “We take quite a while to get started, which has been an issue with us this year. Today we dug ourselves a hole, and then later when we were putting a lot of pressure on them, they came back up the field and scored.”
Soon, Davis and the PC defense were facing another Irwin assault. The sophomore goalie dashed out and slid down to foil one Owls attempt, and then as she was scrambling back towards the cage she dove to deflect another shot.
After the Quakers weathered another corner kick by the visitors, they began to generate more offensive activity of their own in the middle of the first half. The biggest threat was posed by junior Jlon Flippens when she carried the ball in along the right border of the penalty area and drove a hard shot a little bit beyond the far post.
Penn Charter played more aggressively the rest of the half than they had at the start of the contest, and Pellerito tied the game with 13:30 to go. Both Flippens and DeMarco had near misses in the late minutes, and the half ended with a 1-1 count.
Charter was back on the attack as the second period got underway, but before long Irwin came up the field in transition and scored the game-winning goal as a through ball from Hannah Keating found fellow junior Kristin Burnetta breaking into the left side of the box. Like a number of the Owls’ best players, these two athletes regard lacrosse as their primary endeavor, and both have made verbal commitments play the stick sport at Harvard University.
The Owls’ winning goal came three-and-a-half minutes into the second half. Seven minutes later, a diving save by Irwin’s Shein prevented Pellerito from tying the match for the Quakers. Soon after that, another hard PC shot appeared to enter the goal and bounce right back out again, but the ball had actually skimmed the outside of the right side of the netting and had struck the back support of the cage.
As the contest entered its final phase, two promising crosses by the home team resulted in a pair of shots hit outside the left post by sophomore Alex Kuper and by DeMarco. In between, Irwin had an opening, but wound up firing the ball right at Charter’s Listman.
“I thought that we had more than enough chances to tie the game or possibly go ahead,” PC’s Borski said later. “But if you don’t finish your chances, you don’t win soccer games; it’s that simple.”
With just over six minutes left, a transition sequence that began deep in the Owls’ defensive end produced the insurance goal for the visitors.
Deft footwork and timing were displayed on four passes up the pitch, as each AI player seemed to rid herself of the ball just a split-second before a Quaker opponent reached her. In the last exchange, sophomore Annie McConnon delivered the ball to Burnetta as the junior penetrated the box on the left, drawing the keeper out and then sinking her second goal of the day. This was the proverbial nail in the coffin.
“We wanted to put the ball on the floor and find feet,” explained the Owls’ mentor, Spillane. “We wanted to be controlled, not play 100 miles-and-hour and smash the ball 60 yards downfield. We have the people who can make the runs up top, but we played a good game in the midfield today, too.”
They say that one positive effect of a loss is that it’s easier for a coach to get players to really listen in following practices, and the Quakers were going to be hearing a lot from Borski after this outing.
“We’re just going to go back to the drawing board, look at our mistakes, and try to fix those things,” she said. “You can’t really teach heart, though; that’s something we’ll have to find within ourselves.”