by Tom Utescher
Penn Charter has begun the 2015 girls lacrosse season under the third coaching regime the program has had in as many years. The new mentors have ties to both the school and the area, so there’s likely to be more continuity going forward.
New head coach John Curtin has worked with many programs in the Northwest Philadelphia area, including the Springfield Spartans club organization and the boys’ lacrosse team at Norwood Fontbonne Academy. One of his assistants is his daughter Meg, who played at Penn Charter (’10) and went on to become a starting goaltender at Lafayette College, where she graduated last spring.
Another member of the staff, Liz Ramsey, is a product of Northeast Philly’s Nazareth Academy, which is a member of the Catholic Academies League along with Mount St. Joseph. She played college ball at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and later became head coach of the IUP Crimson Hawks.
Assistant coach Erin Dunne originally hails from New Jersey, and after high school she crossed the Delaware to play at Franklin & Marshall College, where she became a Centennial Conference First Team all-star.
Penn Charter squeezed in a few scrimmages before spring break, then won an official game against Sewickley Academy from suburban Pittsburgh while at a lacrosse camp in Florida. Last Tuesday, the Quakers played for the first time on the grass of their own stadium field.
PC raced out to a seemingly comfortable 7-2 halftime lead against Downingtown West High School, but then had to hang on in the late minutes to claim a 9-8 victory over the Whippets. Downingtown slipped to 0-2 in the young 2015 season, having lost its opener to Archbishop Carroll.
Although the attack was less successful in the second period, Charter displayed balanced scoring overall, ending up with two goals apiece from juniors Meredith Chernak and Hannah Fox, and sophomores Perri Keehfuss and Macaul Mellor.
PC scooped up the opening draw, and in the second minute the hosts got on the board thank to a drive from behind the cage by senior Avery Shoemaker. The Quakers’ lone team captain this spring, Shoemaker is a four-year varsity starter who signed with the University of Virginia last November after verbally committing as a sophomore.
Charter seized the next draw as well and barreled straight down the field. From high in the arc, freshman Greer Guyer delivered the ball down to Chernak, who scored from a few feet in front of the crease. This time the visitors responded quickly, as Ryan McKinney charged down off the draw to post the Whippets’ first goal. They would only manage one more for the remainder of the first period.
With 21:25 left in the half, Fox passed the ball from behind the cage out to Keehfuss for PC’s third marker. Next, at 19:50, Fox scored a goal of her own on a high-low play initiated by Shoemaker.
The score was now 4-1, but there would be no more goals for almost 10 minutes. Shoemaker hit a goal post on a free position shot, and later PC could not take advantage of a numerical advantage when Downingtown had a player sent to the penalty box.
With the teams back at even strength, McKinney gave the Whippets their second goal, coming in from the left and dodging a defender to free herself for the shot. It was now a two-goal affair with 10 minutes left in the half.
PC possessed the ball much of the time after that, pressuring the Whippets’ defense and drawing free positions. The next three Quaker goals would come off of these restarts.
Shoemaker was fouled up top and got the ball to Chernak, who converted from just outside the left post. Mellor notched her first goal on a free position a few minutes later, and then two-and-a-half minutes before the break a third free-po set up Fox for a strike into the upper right corner of the cage.
The visitors’ McKinney, who would finish with four goals, got the Whippets going in the second half with three-and-a-half minutes elapsed, and with markers from Christine Herman and Amanda Caruso over the following three minutes, Downingtown was back in the game, at 5-7.
Penn Charter’s sophomore starter in goal, Jamillah Buie, foiled a free- position opportunity for the visitors, and at the other end, a free-position shot by Mellor struck the crossbar.
Midway through the half, Downingtown’s Avery Kelly got her team back within one goal of the Quakers, but with 9:28 to go, Mellor levered the lead back to two points. Trying to clear the ball, the visiting goalie came out of the cage on the left and Mellor checked the ball away from her. The sophomore retrieved it and got off a successful shot before the keeper could recover, spreading the score to 8-6.
Still, the Chester Country club kept coming, trimming the lead to a single goal once more when Emma Cooper found the Quakers’ cage with 4:38 remaining. Later, with the clock under a minute-and-a-half, PC was up on attack with the ball, but turned it over.
Downingtown charged across midfield and one of the backpedaling Quakers committed a foul when the Whippets got closer to the cage. From the left hash mark, McKinney cashed in to level the score at 8-8 with 56.7 seconds remaining.
Corralling the subsequent draw, Charter had Shoemaker slip the ball down to Keehfuss, who was fouled in the middle of the arc. She bounced in her free-position shot, moving the home team back into the lead, 9-8, with 35.7 seconds remaining in the game.
The Quakers appeared on the verge of capturing the final draw of the day, but they kept nudging the ball along the grass instead of scooping it up. They actually bobbled it toward their own goal, and Downingtown eventually got control of the nugget with a little over 20 seconds left.
Charter’s situation worsened when they fouled the dangerous McKinney to set up a free position with six seconds to go. However, PC’s Buie made her fifth save of the day a memorable one, denying the Downingtown high scorer and preserving the victory for Penn Charter.