by Tom Utescher
In the girls’ soccer final of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament last Saturday night, a veteran mainstay and a newly-arrived rookie worked together to help top-seeded Penn Charter capture the championship for a second year in a row.
After Germantown Academy, the three-seed, went ahead on a goal by junior Emmy Dolaway in the middle of the first period, Penn Charter pulled even two minutes later thanks another 11th grader, Jlon Flippens, a U.S. Junior National Team player who has committed to the University of Maryland.
While most of the freshmen on the Quakers’ roster came up from last year’s eighth-grade class at PC, Francesca “Frenchie” Pellerito is a new student at the school. On a counterattack a dozen minutes into the second half, she received a pass across the midfield line from Flippens and scored what would be the winning goal in Charter’s 3-1 victory. In the final minutes, Pellerito returned the favor, passing the ball to the Quakers’ junior scoring machine, who fired a long shot past the advancing GA keeper, junior Kat Stambaugh (10 saves).
Asked to compare her 2013 and 2014 championship teams, second-year Penn Charter head coach Darci Borski reflected, “They had different strengths and weaknesses, but they both had talent and a great work ethic. One thing I really loved about this team is that you never could count us out. We pulled out a lot of victories from behind. Tonight was a wonderful way to end a magical season.”
Flippens observed, “Last year we had a lot of skilled seniors [there were only two 12th-graders this fall], while with this team we relied on a lot of hard work and heart. We have young players who are quick to the ball; it just took a little bit of time for us to get used to each other.”
Flippens, the Inter-Ac MVP, registered 24 goals and six assists this season, and will enter her senior season with 84 career goals.
Winning its last 13 games, Penn Charter closed out the season with an overall record of 16-4-2, while Germantown Academy ended up 16-7-3. GA’s current mentor, Chris Nelson, succeeded Borski as the Patriots’ head coach in the 2011-2012 school year.
“The last three years we lost in the semifinals of this [PAIS] tournament to the eventual champion,” he related. “This year we got to the finals, so that’s a step forward. Penn Charter played well and they did a great job on that counter [for the winning goal] – they came out very quickly. Even after that we had two or three really good looks, and we couldn’t finish.
“I don’t think either team dominated the game,” Nelson continued. “I thought the run of play was pretty even, back and forth.”
PC had repeated as Inter-Ac champion this fall with a record of 10-1-1, tying Episcopal Academy in the league opener and then splitting its home/away series with Agnes Irwin, which finished second in the Inter-Ac at 10-2.
Charter defeated the third place Inter-Ac club, GA (8-3-1), twice. The first encounter yielded a 5-1 win for PC, but the rematch, just one week before the PAIS final, was a very different game, with the Quakers having to come from behind for a 3-2 victory.
“GA always plays us tough,” Charter’s Borski said. “When we get on the field with them, it’s bound to be an exciting game.”
While the Quakers and second-seeded Irwin each enjoyed a bye in the first round of the Independent Schools tournament, GA got off to a slow start with a 1-0 win over Westtown School but then handled Shipley, 4-1 in the quarterfinals. The Patriots had split with Agnes Irwin during the Inter-Ac campaign, and their meeting the PIAS semifinals came down to penalty kicks, with GA winning the shootout, 4-2, and the game, 4-3.
Charter also had to resort to penalty kicks to pull out a “W” in one of its PAIS tilts. That happened in PC’s first tourney outing, a quarterfinal against eighth-seeded Friends Central. The Quakers had topped the Phoenix, 3-0, back in September, but in last Tuesday’s meeting FC was on the verge of winning, 1-0. Flippens tied the match with less than three minutes left, and Penn Charter prevailed in PK’s, 4-3.
Both the Quakers and the Phoenix had played important games toward the end of the previous week. On Thursday, FC lost 2-1 to Germantown Friends in the Friends Schools League championship game, and the following day, November 7, the Phoenix rekindled to capture an opening-round game in the PAIS tournament, knocking off number nine Notre Dame, 5-3.
On Saturday, November 8, the Quakers played in their regular-season finale, a rematch with GA that would decide the Inter-Ac championship. A loss or even a tie for visiting PC would’ve Allowed Agnes Irwin to take the title, but Charter pulled through, with Flippens depositing the second of her two goals in the final minute to give her club a 3-2 victory. Sophomore Alex Kuper had scored PC’s first goal in the game.
As Tuesday’s PAIS quarterfinal got underway at Penn Charter, Friends Central dictated the pace while the Quakers seemed to lack intensity.
“It was kind of the effect of having such a big-time game on Saturday,” Coach Borski pointed out. “It came down to the last 30 seconds for the Inter-Ac championship, and there was a lot of emotion.”
Throughout the Indy Schools tournament, several important players for the Quakers would have to watch from the sideline. Junior Josie Dutton, whom Borski called a key distributor in the midfield, was getting around on crutches due to a torn ACL, and tournament rules prohibited eighth-grader Ally Paul from participating. Paul, one of the team’s scoring threats, had not been a starter, but she had usually come off the bench very quickly and she logged a lot of minutes during the regular season.
It was a good thing for the Quakers that they had two accomplished goalies. For the first half of the season, sophomore Mireyah Davis and freshman Mackenzie Listman had split time in the cage. Then Listman was out for awhile due to a concussion, and not long after she returned, Davis suffered a broken nose in a pick-up basketball game. The Quakers’ fulltime starter in the net on the 2013 championship team, Davis would not be able to play in the PAIS tourney this time around.
Last Tuesday Friends Central attacked early, and had an outside shot knocked down by Listman. After seven or eight minutes, Charter went up on offense to earn two corner kicks, but one veered out of bounds, while the other produced an off-target shot.
In the middle of the period, the Phoenix made several assaults up the right wing that were spearheaded by sophomore Hayden Posencheg, who’d scored FC’s lone goal in the FSL final. These efforts did not bear fruit, nor did Penn Charter’s attempts at the other end. From the right side of the box, a strong shot by Flippens struck the crossbar, and the half ended with the score still 0-0.
Charter was not generating as many scoring chances as usual, and the Phoenix defense played a role in that.
“They have those two sisters in the back, so they communicate well and work well together,” said Flippens, referring FC’s Sophie and Lorna MacFarlane, a senior and a sophomore. “They’ve got tall players back there and they can judge a ball in the air. Part of our problem was not getting the ball over the back early; I think we struggled a bit with our communication, realizing where players needed to get the ball.”
Friends Central also got a solid effort from another tall defender, junior Avital Schwietzer.
“We lacked service to our forwards,” Borski commented. “We didn’t get them the ball enough, whether to their feet or over the top. We didn’t play our style – we got caught up in a lot of kicking and running, which doesn’t fit us.”
In the second half, Penn Charter’s frustration evolved into serious concern when Friends Central scored and the minutes kept ticking away on the trailing Quakers. The goal by the Phoenix came eight minutes into the second period. A corner kick did not directly result in a shot for the visitors, but they kept the ball up around the penalty area. Sophomore Emily Burd sent it across the cage from the left, and from out beyond the right post senior Abby Crowley scored on a header.
PC picked it up on offense, but Friends Central held firm in the back, with Sophie McFarlane clearing the ball out numerous times and with her sister Lorna blocking a strong shot by Charter freshman Giovanna “Gi” DeMarco.
With under 15 minutes left, PC was given a direct kick when Flippens was taken down about eight yards above the box. Phoenix junior goalie Caroline Fakharzadeh pushed the resulting shot away from the goal, and a little later Flippens put one over the crossbar. With seven minutes remaining, an impressive outside shot from the left by Flippens struck the top right corner of the goal frame. Next, Pellerito volleyed the ball toward the middle of the cage, but the shot was relatively soft, and was easily swallowed up by Fakharzadeh.
The PC freshman was trying to bring the ball into the box once more when she ran into several Phoenix defenders.
Flippens related, “She had the ball and kind of got tangled up and it popped out to me, so I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
Prolific goalscorers have a habit of doing that; Flippens quickly settled the ball near the middle of the box, then tied the match, 1-1, with 2:11 left in the second half. The deadlock held up through the rest of regulation play and 10 minutes of overtime, so it all came down to penalty kicks. It was a standard best-of-five affair, with shooters from the two teams alternating at the PK line.
The session began with FC’s Sophie MacFarlane shooting the ball over the goal, then her teammate, Fakharzadeh, dove to stop a low shot by the Quakers’ Pellerito. Next, a successful attempt by visitor Jesse Rubin was matched by Charter sophomore Alexis Hnatkowsky, who scored at head height about a yard inside the left post.
Crowley, the third shooter for the Phoenix, sent the ball right into the belly of PC’s Listman, and when Flippens tucked her shot up under the bar on the left side, the hosts were ahead 2-1. The count rose to 3-2 as successful shot for the Phoenix by Lisa Bernstein was answered in kind by Gi DeMarco, who aimed low on the right and had the ball go in off the hands of Fakharzadeh.
FC stayed alive when Morgan Crowley scored on the right side, then the Quakers’ junior co-captain, Dom DeMarco, stepped up to the mark for the final shot in the first round of kicks.
She related, “Before the girl ahead of me went I heard the ref say, ’If this girl misses, it’s all over’. Then she made it and I thought, ‘Oh God!’ I was the fifth shooter in the last shootout we had, and it was pretty nerve-wracking.“
The PC co-captain withstood the pressure and placed her ball a little inside the left post, about chest high.
DeMarco initially felt relieved, then she quickly joined in on the Penn Charter celebration.
“I always go to my left corner, a low ball that I hit with the inside of my foot,” she explained. “I have the natural curve to my left, so I go with my gut.”
Borski remarked, “I was proud of the way we gutted it out and finished the game, because Friends Central played very, very well today. We’ll be ready and motivated for Thursday.”
Just after the Quakers had won their Thursday semifinal convincingly, senior co-captain Abby Evans spoke about the Wednesday afternoon practice leading up to the GFS match.
“We worked on the mental aspects, just getting in the right mindset and executing our game plan,” she related. “The game on Tuesday lit a fire under us. We knew we needed to pick it up because we couldn’t keep winning with the way that we’d played. Obviously, today we didn’t want a slow start; we wanted to come out strong and get our momentum back.”
The GFS Tigers, who enjoyed a very successful season in their own right, stayed in step with Penn Charter for the first 10 minutes or so as Thursday’s semifinal got underway. After that, the Quakers began to bend the flow of play in their direction.
On a corner kick from the right, PC drove the ball laterally past GFS keeper Schuyler Alig and out past the far post. A PC shot was blocked by the Tigers’ senior goalie, but the visitors couldn’t clear the ball out from in front of the cage. A junior for the host team, Hannah Fox, prodded it across the line, and the Quakers were on the board with 26:38 remaining in the first half.
GFS survived two more Charter corners, then at the other end Listman made a save against Tigers freshman Portia McKoy. The Quakers came back up the field in a hurry. A ball booted by Flippens glanced off of Pellerito and continued on to Gi DeMarco, whose shot from the left side of the box went in near the far post at the 20-minute mark.
On a GFS direct kick and then a corner kick for the Tigers, PC cleared the ball out of the danger zone, first with the fist of Listman, and then with the foot of Dom DeMarco.
PC then put the game away in a span of less than six minutes, as the clock clicked down from 10:19 to 4:43. First, PC got the ball up to Flippens more than a dozen yards above the 18, and she dribbled in and fired a fade-away shot on an angle to make it a 3-0 affair. Another strike by the future Terrapin came less than two minutes later, when she launched the ball from a few steps below the top of the box.
Finally, Gi DeMarco carried the ball in from the left with a GFS defender glued to her hip, but she still managed to fire past an approaching Alig.
Ahead 5-0 at the break, PC already had several starters on the bench for the start of the second half.
GFS kept battling and upped its game in the second half, avoiding a shutout thanks to a marker by senior Sophie Trotto. The goal came against back-up keeper Mary McGlinchey, who had replaced her classmate, Listman, 10 minutes into the second period.
Shaking off its Friends Central funk, Penn Charter had moved into the tournament finals on a high note, and faced the prospect of another barnburner against GA. For the most part, a barnburner it was – essentially a 2-1 contest until PC scored in the closing minutes.
The 2013 PAIS finals for boys’ and girls’ soccer had been played under relatively pleasant conditions in afternoon matches at Philadelphia University. This year, it was back to night games staged at Cabrini College, where on a similarly chilly night in 2012, Penn Charter had finished as runner-up to the Hill School.
During the first 20 minutes or so, the two teams seemed wary of giving up an early goal, cautiously probing one another. Gradually, the intensity ramped up.
With GA on the attack and players from both teams crowded into the box in front of the Quakers’ cage, the ball pinballed around off various feet and legs until the Patriots’ Dolaway tapped it into the goal. The three-seed had made the first mark on the scoreboard with 15:41 left to play in the first half.
Germantown Academy fans were able to enjoy the lead for one minute and 50 seconds. Gi DeMarco earned an assist on the equalizer by Flippens, who was stumbling when she got rid of the ball in the middle of the box.
Flippens narrated, “I said to Gi to just serve the ball in the box from where she was. I started to fall when I shot it; I swung at the ball and I don’t even know if my eyes were open.”
Borski noted “It was important for us to respond to their goal quickly. All season, ‘J’ came through for us in the clutch, and Gi always gives teams another threat to worry about.”
The younger DeMarco had been called upon to perform additional connecting and distributing duties since the injury to Dutton. GA also had a junior midfielder who had been sidelined for awhile due to a knee injury; interestingly, the Patriots’ Sophie Axenroth was a teammate of Dutton’s when they both began their high school careers at Central Bucks East.
Unfortunately, GA had another player go down with a knee injury during Saturday’s contest; senior Victoria Mauro was helped off the field with under two minutes left in the opening half.
Just before that, the Pats had been pressuring the PC defense. Charter’s Listman (eight saves) stopped a direct kick with around eight minutes to go, then made a truly impressive save on a 10-yard volley from the left of the box by GA freshman Rachel Villari. Soon after that, a deft flick went just a little high, landing the ball in the top netting behind the Charter crossbar.
Flippens broke back up the middle, but she and Gi DeMarco were not quite able to link up effectively, and Charter didn’t get a shot. After Mauro went down, the Pats still had the last word on offense with just over half-a-minute remaining. Freshman Mackenzie Pluck, a member of the junior national team program, had been laboring tirelessly in the midfield. Now, she put the ball in play on a corner kick from the right, but the first foot on the ball belonged to a PC player, and halftime arrived with the tally still even at 1-1.
During the break, GA’s Nelson had to make an adjustment due to the injury to Mauro.
“Vic is our center back, and when she was hurt, we had to draw one of our attacking players back,” the coach explained. “That limited us a little in the second half.”
Still, GA made the initial attack in the new period, and pretty much gave as good as it got thereafter. The big difference, obviously, was that Charter was able to finish two of its chances.
The decisive scoring play for the Quakers began with a GA corner kick from the right. On the near side, Flippens intercepted the ball and cleared it out of the defensive third. The Patriots tried to drive it back inside, but Flippens blocked the attempt and once again got the ball moving in the other direction, this time finding the feet of Pellerito around midfield.
“It was a great ball from ‘J’ as usual, and a perfect opportunity for me,” the freshman related. “The goalie came out far and I hit it right corner. I didn’t want to dribble because there were two girls coming.”
Now, Penn Charter would try to hold the lead for 28 minutes and 15 seconds. At first, the Quakers did it by continuing to attack. Flippens hit the right post with a shot, then sent a direct kick over the GA goal.
After the 20-minute mark, the Patriots made repeated assaults for a spell, but they had trouble finding space for clear shots, and a number of balls bounced back off of Charter defenders. Later, PC came upfield a few times to have Flippens hit one shot high and another wide right.
With around a dozen minutes left, it was GA’s turn once more. However, a number of times when the Pats served the ball into the Quakers’ penalty zone, Dom DeMarco was there to head it away.
“Dom is our general in the back,” Borski said of the junior co-captain, who has made a verbal commitment to Colgate University. “She works hard and she’s very fit and fast. We count on her a lot.”
Still, GA did get some open looks. A sterling opportunity went by the boards when the Pats got the ball to a forward who was all alone in the left side of the box; the resulting shot went straight to Listman. From the other side of the penalty area, GA sophomore Brynn Skelly fired a bit beyond the far post.
Five minutes to go, and Penn Charter crossed the ball from the right endline toward the near post, only to see Stambaugh dive over to cover it. After another foray across midfield by GA, the Quakers began to move up out of their defensive end, with Pellerito sending the ball ahead to Flippens. At this stage, all the Patriots were pushing forward whenever they could, including Stambaugh.
Flippens said, “We know that she comes up high, but this time she was really far out, so I just took the shot right away.”
The junior’s long-ball reinforced the PC lead with 3:02 on the clock, and it proved to be the last goal of the evening.
“I’m so happy, it’s indescribable,” gushed Pellerito, the newest Quaker. “I love it at Penn Charter; the girls are great, and Darci’s an amazing coach.”
For a second season, Borski was ably assisted by coaches Kellyn Jaspan, Ashley Maher, and Caroline Williams.
Penn Charter has everyone save Evans and Eliza Jacobs returning for the 2015 campaign, and GA, also, will graduate just two team members next spring, Mauro and Madison Hackley. Nelson feels the Pats will receive strong leadership from this year’s junior class, with players such as Dolaway, Stambaugh, Axenroth, and defender Kayla Seiberlich moving up.
Inter-Ac League runner-up Agnes Irwin has a number of seniors on its roster, but only three of them were starters this year. It looks like Inter-Ac and Independent Schools fans will be treated to more fancy foot fireworks next fall.