Germantown Academy defender Kayla Seiberlich (left) shields the ball from fellow junior Meghan McCool, the top scorer for Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Germantown Academy defender Kayla Seiberlich (left) shields the ball from fellow junior Meghan McCool, the top scorer for Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Less than 15 minutes into their soccer match at Springside Chestnut Hill last Tuesday, things had taken a surprising turn for the girls of Germantown Academy. The Patriots found themselves down a goal, thanks to a quick strike by SCH ninth-grader Emily McNesby, and they were also down a player, since their own freshman standout, Mackenzie Pluck, had taken a blow to the knee during a collision and temporarily had to retire to the sideline.

The only seniors on the GA roster are co-captains Madison Hackley and Victoria Maura, but there is a large cadre of seasoned juniors, and overall this group of veterans was well equipped to bring the Pats back from this short spell of adversity early in the game.

One of the 11th-graders, Emmy Dolaway, scored twice in the remainder of the opening period to give the visitors a 2-1 edge at the interlude. In the second half, the game got completely away from the host Blue Devils.

Dolaway chalked up a third goal and Pluck returned to deposit a pair, with junior Caroline Sloane and sophomores Lexi Vaganos and Brynn Skelly rounding out the scoring in GA’s 8-2 victory.

Another one of the GA juniors, goalie Katherine Stambaugh, made two saves for the victors, who improved to 5-2-1 overall by winning an encounter that opened the Inter-Ac League season for both teams.

In between Germantown’s fifth and sixth markers, SCH added its second goal of the day, courtesy of junior Meghan McCool. The Blue Devils slipped to 6-2-1 with Tuesday’s setback.

Searching for a stopper in their own goal, the Blue Devils went with Little League baseball sensation Mo’ne Davis to start the game. The eighth grader was in the cage for most of the contest and recorded a dozen saves, although GA was able to set up a number of unchallenged shots against her. Freshman Morgan Bender, who had played in the net hitherto, came in to finish out the contest, while Davis reappeared in a field player’s uniform.

After the match, first-year SCH coach John Westfield observed, “That’s obviously a good team, and we’re still growing and progressing in a lot of areas. We got a little momentum with that first goal, but unfortunately you can only play defense for so long.”

SCH has added a few more travel team players this year, but the squad still lacks the depth of soccer-specific talent found on the top teams in the Inter-Ac.

Germantown Academy had played a solid non-league schedule before getting into the Inter-Ac, and fourth-year skipper Chris Nelson related “We continue to get better at holding the ball and knocking it around. We aren’t all the way there yet, but we had a number of stretches today when we did that.”

The Patriots owned the ball much of the time for the first dozen minutes. Their first shot was high and wide right, and on their second attempt a ball fired by junior Sophie Axenroth was saved by the Devils’ Davis. Off a corner kick a little later, a header struck the crossbar and bounced straight down, but the ball never fully crossed the goal line and it was cleared away.

Not long after that, the home team came out of its defensive end with McNesby carrying the ball up the left wing. Junior high scorer Meghan McCool filled the lane in the middle of the field and distracted the Patriots’ defense, and McNesby angled in and took the shot herself, propelling the ball into the far side of the net.

This occurred with 27:29 left in the opening period, and just two minutes later a collision at the other end resulted in the departure of GA’s Pluck, a member of the U.S. Under-14 national player pool who plays club ball for F.C. Bucks.

The Pats kept attacking though, with Skelly launching a long shot that was denied by Davis, and with freshman Bailey Gilmore hitting one wide of the right post from the middle of the box.

SCH came down and had senior Sinead Brierley get off a ball that steered too far to the left, and the next time the Patriots went up on offense, they scored. There was a flurry of activity in the box, and eventually Gilmore tapped the ball to a nearby Dolaway, who punched it in to tie the game with 14:50 left in the half.

Next, a GA corner kick yielded a shot that was swatted away by the Blue Devils’ Davis, and then Skelly had a near miss as the clock cut into the final 10 minutes. With 8:37 on the ticker Dolaway netted her second goal for Germantown, finding the net on a long aerial from out on the right wing.

After the icebreaker by McNesby, the home team couldn’t get a lot going on offense. Any opponent not dwelling in caves in the world’s remote regions is bound to be aware of McCool, a Penn Fusion standout who already made a verbal commitment to the University of Virginia last year. Simply sending up long balls from the defensive end and having her try to run onto them is not a tactic that will work very well against a sound, prepared opponent.

However, the Blue Devils didn’t have much of an alternative, since they struggled at trying to pass the ball up through the midfield.

“We had trouble moving the ball forward out of the back,” admitted Westfield. “We just couldn’t find a midfielder today. We had no movement off the ball, no connecting passes.”

GA’s Nelson agreed, in effect, as he commented “I thought we did a really good job in the midfield and were able to control that space today.”

Still, given the number of offensive opportunities generated by the Pats, their 2-1 advantage at the half seemed like a modest lead.

In the huddle, Nelson explained, “We talked about two main things. The first was about keeping more possession, because we were kind of playing really quickly. We talked about taking our time a little more and finding the feet of the open runners. That helped us get better looks in the second half.

“The second thing,” he continued, “was that we wanted to take better advantage of the balls we got in the box. We wanted to try and be aggressive and run through the ball, since good things usually happen when you can do that close to the goal.”

Now back on the field for the Patriots, Pluck started the second-half surge for the visitors, giving them the eventual game-winner 10 minutes into the new period. Over the next seven minutes, the count rose to 5-1 as Dolaway completed her hat trick and Pluck put in her second goal of the day.

With 14:28 remaining in the game, the home team tacked its final total on the board when McCool expertly settled a bouncing ball in the box and fired it in. Later, she found the net with an impressive outside shot, but a teammate was offsides on the far wing, and there was no goal.

Up to this point, two players had furnished all of the goals for the leaders, but three of their teammates joined in over the final 10 minutes of the game.

First, Sloane struck from near the right post off of a pass sent across the front of the cage by Vaganos, then Vaganos deposited a goal of her own. Out in the right side of the box with two minutes to go, Skelly completed the day’s scoring by placing a shot in the relatively small gap between the keeper and the near post.

Next on SCH’s practice agenda, according to Westfield, would be “working on trapping and passing, on finding those midfielders.”

He’d also like to see his club display a little more confidence overall.

“I think we lacked a little bit of toughness today,” he said. “We got bullied a bit out there. GA has good players, but we gave them a little too much respect, and that translated into them having the space and time to do what they wanted with the ball.”

UPDATE: Springside Chestnut Hill bounced back from the setback in its league opener and finished out the week with two victories. On Friday, the Blue Devils leveled their league record a 1-1 with a 5-3 win at the Academy of Notre Dame, where McCool scored a hat trick and McNesby accounted for the other two goals. McNesby picked up a hat trick the following day as SCH downed non-league opponent Hill School, 7-2. Brierley scored twice in the win, with single goals added by McCool (four assists) and sophomore Taylor Ferry.