GFS senior tri-captain Sophia Linguiti (with ball) eludes Episcopal’s Lilly Shaner (left background) and heads upfield. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

GFS senior tri-captain Sophia Linguiti (with ball) eludes Episcopal’s Lilly Shaner (left background) and heads upfield. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

After winning the school’s first Friends Schools League championship in girls soccer on November 6, the 2014 Germantown Friends squad ventured where no Tigers had gone before. A day after winning the FSL title, GFS topped Baldwin School in their opening match in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament, and last week the fifth-seeded franchise made it to the semifinal round for the first time since the school began to compete in the PAIS championships.

For a quarterfinal match on Monday, November 10, the Tigers travelled to Newtown Square and received goals from freshman Portia McCoy and senior Greta Meyer to upset fourth-seeded Episcopal Academy, 2-1. They took a much shorter ride on Thursday afternoon, travelling along School House Lane to tackle the top seed and defending PAIS champion, Penn Charter.

Surviving a quarterfinal scare in which they won in a penalty kick shootout over number eight Friends Central, the talented PC Quakers came out focused and on fire, racking up a 5-0 halftime lead. The Tigers fought gamely throughout the second half, though, scoring one last goal (by senior Sophie Trotto) before their season ended with a 5-1 setback.

Still, it was an autumn of unprecedented achievements for the GFS program.

“It was an excellent season all around,” summed up first-year head coach Jeremy Hurdle, whose squad wound up with an overall record of 10-6-2. “The girls made my job easy. From the first day of pre-season they came ready to work hard and take instruction.”

Sophia Linguiti, a senior tri-captain along with Grayson Melby and Sophie Trotto, is the only member of the roster who plays soccer outside of the school season, but a number of her teammates are Division I college recruits in other sports.

“They brought that sports IQ from the other sports that they might specialize in,” Hurdle pointed out, “and everyone came in with a lot of energy and a desire to succeed.”

The squad was led by a group of 11 seniors. A number of them had been with the varsity for several seasons, and had seen the Tigers finish as the Friends League runner-up three times in a row.

“They were the key to our success this year, and they’ve shown all of the younger girls what it means to be a GFS soccer player,” Hurdle said. “They made a conscious effort to be inclusive and that paid off excellently for us. They set a superb example and they’ve left the program in a great place with the work they’ve done not just this season, but throughout their careers.”

The players and a largely-new coaching staff proved a good fit. Rachel Bradburd, an assistant coach for several seasons, provided a sense of continuity at the beginning of the 2014 campaign. Hurdle and new assistant coach Samantha Swerdloff, a former Division I and semi-pro player, taught the game of soccer at a sophisticated level.

After securing the program’s first Friends Schools League title, the Tigers were eager to see how far they could go in the PAIS tourney. They began by avenging an early-season loss to Baldwin, winning 3-1.

In last Monday’s quarterfinal match at Episcopal, the Tigers faced a band of Churchwomen who had finished fourth in the Inter-Ac League (5-5-2) and owned an overall record of 7-10-2.

Attacking up the right flank, GFS freshman Portia McKoy made herself a scoring threat all afternoon. On one of her first charges, she delivered the ball inside to Meyer, but Germantown’s first shot of the day was foiled by Taylor Long, EA’s senior goalie.

It would be McKoy who got GFS on the board a little over 13 minutes into the match. Carrying up the right wing and beating the last Episcopal back as she angled in toward the cage, she eyed up a shot from the right side of the box. Long remained in the middle of the goal, and McKoy shot it into the wide gap on the near side.

Four minutes later, a well-struck corner kick by Episcopal sent the ball right across the face of the GFS goal, but no one made contact inside. Just past the midway point of the opening period, a hard shot from the left by senior Tara Boyle of the Churchwomen bounced back off GFS sophomore defender Hannah Hanson.

Soon after that, the Tigers tacked their winning goal to the scoreboard. Just inside the penalty area on the right, Meyer unleashed in a solid, sharply-angled shot. Senior classmate Lydia Harvey had the play sealed off at the left post, but before the ball reached her it deflected off an EA defender into the cage.

It looked as through the visitors would carry a 2-0 lead into halftime, but a late assault by Episcopal yielded a corner kick for the hosts. The ball was put in play from the left corner to the area of the far post, and although there was no immediate shot, the Churchwomen managed to keep the ball in front of the Tigers’ cage until junior Jessica Shanahan jabbed it across the line.

With 1:11 to go in the first half, the game’s final score was on the board. GFS seniors Melby and Meyer, Stanford University recruits in lacrosse and squash, respectively, had both came off the field with injuries during the first 40 minutes. Meyer would return, but not Melby, who received a preliminary diagnosis of a strained meniscus in her knee.

Both GFS and Episcopal had opportunities to add another goal or two during the second period, but the halftime tally would stand up until the final whistle. In the final phase of the game, much of the offensive activity was generated by Episcopal. The Churchwomen hadn’t played with a great deal of verve for much of the afternoon, but they showed more intensity when the end of their season came into clear focus.

With about 11 minutes left, Germantown’s senior goalkeeper, Schuyler Alig, leapt up to snare a ball served in at her by EA sophomore Kelsey Slack. On a corner kick by Episcopal five minutes later, one of the Churchwomen got her head in the ball in front, but at an angle that just kept it going toward the far side of the box.

Episcopal sophomore Molly O’Brien then made a run up the right wing that was stopped by GFS freshman back Celia Meyer. With around two minutes left, O’Brien drove a corner kick in on the ground from the right side, but the ball was rejected by the Tigers’ Hanson. It came back to O’Brien, who chipped it inside again, but after the ball took a high bounce Alig gathered it in.

Near the end, Episcopal senior Lauren Repke served the ball in from the right wing, and once more Alig hauled it down. She was credited with 10 saves on the day, while Long made seven stops for the Churchwomen.

For GFS it was on to the semifinals on Thursday, which turned out to be an inauspicious moment in time to be playing Penn Charter, closely following the quarterfinal scare the Quakers received from Friends Central. Of course, the Tigers were still without Melby, a key defensive presence.

There were some early opportunities for the Tigers’ Linguiti and fellow senior Kelsey Knowles, as well as a GFS corner kick about eight minutes in. Charter stepped up its activity on offense and got on the board with 13:22 elapsed. In the aftermath of a corner kick, the ball was booted in by junior Hannah Fox, whose older brother, Oliver, graduated from Germantown Friends last spring.

Seven minutes later, PC freshman Giovanna DeMarco made it 2-0, and in the final 10 minutes of the half, the match really got away from the Tigers.

Charter junior Jlon Flippens, a University of Maryland recruit, fired back-to-back goals, and with a little under five minutes left in the period, DeMarco scored a second time, sending the Quakers into the interlude with a 5-0 advantage.

“The girls were a little disappointed at halftime, but this team has shown an abundance of spirit, fight, and heart all season,” Hurdle said. “We played a lot better in the second half, and they came off the field with their heads held high.”

Even though Portia McKoy left the game with an injury just as the second half got underway, the Tigers made a much stronger showing on offense than they had in the first period. About 10 minutes in, Charter replaced its starting goalie, Mackenzie Listman, with fellow freshman Mary McGlinchey.

GFS got on the board through its fifth corner kick of the second period, which came with a little over eight minutes left in the game. Knowles put the ball in play from the right, and it sailed over toward the far post to set up a header by Trotto.

GFS senior Emma Wagner had a strong outside shot track wide to the left with about four minutes to go. The Tigers earned their final corner kick of the afternoon a little bit later, but it did not yield a shot on goal. Instead, their last shot came on a direct kick, with PC’s McGlinchy making the save to keep the count at 5-1.

Although the graduation of a large and athletic senior class will have an impact on the team, Hurdle advises that it wouldn’t be prudent to overlook the Tigers next season.

“There were a number of underclassmen who got a lot of experience, and there were other talented girls who had to be patient with regards to playing time because of that huge senior class,” the coach explained. “The team will definitely have a different look next year, but I expect our results to still be very strong.”