by Tom Utescher
With a five-goal outburst, junior Meghan McCool raised her season scoring total to 55 as host Springside Chestnut Hill Academy rolled past the George School Cougars, 7-1, last Wednesday afternoon.
The non-league bout was an opening-round game in the 2014 Pennsylvania Independent Schools soccer tournament. McCool provided all the early goals for the seventh-seeded SCH Blue Devils as they took a 3-0 halftime lead over number 10 George School. In the second half, freshman Emily McNesby and junior Ashley Carabajal joined in on the scoring, with McCool netting two more goals.
Despite their dominating performance, the Blue Devils did not advance in the PAIS tournament to play second-seeded Agnes Irwin. SCH has had an eighth-grader as a member of its varsity team since the get-go this fall, but while that’s permitted in Inter-Ac League competition, eighth-graders are not allowed to participate in the Independent Schools tournament.
This rule has been on the organization’s books for some time and covers all sports under its purview. The youngster was only on the field for a brief time, then SCH coaches and administrators realized the mistake and she was taken out of the game. There was a display of integrity by representatives from both schools following the contest, when Springside Chestnut Hill admitted the error, and the George School staff expressed reservations about winning the match under such circumstances, when the outcome on the field had been so clear-cut.
However, the tournament’s governing body needed to enforce the rule in order to be consistent with past practices, and SCH had to forfeit the match. In recent years, two Main Line members of the Inter-Ac League had to forfeit PAIS tournament games for the same reason, one in softball in 2012, and one in lacrosse just last spring.
On several occasions, Penn Charter has avoided such a penalty by benching starting eighth-graders for PAIS tournament games. Two young players had to sit out the girls’ basketball tournament in 2012, and last fall PC won the girls’ soccer championship while holding out an eighth-grade standout who had been one of the team’s leading scorers.
During the few minutes she was on the field last Wednesday, the ineligible player for Springside Chestnut Hill was not involved in any scoring plays and did not materially contribute to the outcome.
In the second half, between the Blue Devils’ fifth and sixth markers, sophomore Shannon Cunningham scored for George School, breaking up the shutout for SCH sophomore goalie Destini Curry (seven saves).
Curry only arrived at the school a few weeks earlier, and head coach John Westfield noted, “She’s been a major upgrade for us. I don’t want to take anything away from the girls who played in goal before that, but having someone who’s really a goalie by trade makes a big difference. She’s been stopping balls that might have gone in against us earlier in the season.”
Although Springside Chestnut Hill was in command much of the afternoon, George School did force Curry to make several dramatic saves, stops that kept the Cougars off the board until the Blue Devils had the match well in hand.
George School departed with an overall record of 8-8-5, while SCH edged above the .500 mark overall to finish at 11-10-1. A day before last week’s George School game, SCH had closed out its Inter-Ac season with a 4-2 loss to Penn Charter, ending up 3-9 in the league. McCool scored twice in that match, as did PC junior Jlon Flippens and freshman Giovanna DiMarco.
“We put 80 minutes of soccer together and we played very well,” Westfield commented. “We weren’t able to finish a number of opportunities, though, so it was a little bit disheartening.”
Finishing wouldn’t be much of a problem the following afternoon. After McNesby sent a shot wide right on a run down the left flank, George School directed the ball in front of the Devils’ goal on a corner kick, but it was cleared out of danger by freshman Bridget Hennessey.
SCH got on the board nine minutes in, when senior Sinéad Brierley slipped a pass into the box from the left side over to McCool on the right, and the junior drilled it into the upper left corner. In the hosts’ goalcage, Curry sprawled out to stop a possible tying shot by the visitors, then the Blue Devils were back on the attack, with two different players lifting shots over the Cougars’ crossbar.
From around 30 meters out on the right, McCool sent a rocket into the far side of the cage, making it 2-0 with 16:28 to go in the first half. Due to an injury during that sequence, George School switched goalies, and six minutes later the new keeper got her hands on another ball booted by McCool, but it slipped through her fingers into the net. With an assist credited to McNesby, McCool had completed a natural hat trick, and the count remained 3-0 until halftime.
That figure stayed on the board even though the Blue Devils pressed the attack for the first 10 minutes of the second round. After that, George School enjoyed its best five minutes on offense all afternoon, forcing Curry to dive left and right to make three tough stops.
Weathering that storm, the hosts added a fourth goal with a little under 24 minutes remaining, when McCool and McNesby broke through the midfield and the freshman fired from about a dozen meters out on the right side.
McCool made it 5-0 with 15 minutes left, but this time the Cougars responded just a few minutes later, with Cunningham unleashing a hard shot from the middle of the box, and having the ball clang off the left post and bounce into the goal.
SCH got that point back in the next minute, though, as Brierley delivered a through ball up the middle to hit McCool on the run. She notched her fifth goal of the day with 11:28 left in the match.
SCH’s Westbrook, completing his first season as skipper for the Blue Devils, could hardly have had a better leader for his young team than McCool, who already made a verbal commitment to play at the University of Virginia last year as a sophomore.
“The other girls learned to play off of her, because she’s always going to draw a lot of attention from the opposing defense,” he pointed out. “More than that, I think the young players have been inspired to raise their level in response to seeing her skill, her emotion, and her tenacity.”
With Carabajal capping off the 7-1 victory with 7:14 remaining, the Blue Devils thought they were moving on to face Agnes Irwin for a third time this fall. In their initial regular-season clash they’d played the Owls tough, falling 3-2, but Irwin won the rematch more easily, 4-1. With the Blue Devils’ elimination from the tournament due to a technicality, the Owls will get to play a 10-seed instead of a seven-seed in the PAIS quarterfinal round, while the Devils hang up their cleats for the season.