by Tom Utescher
The outcome of Penn Charter’s first two official girls lacrosse matches this spring had each been decided by a single point, and when the Quakers opened their Inter-Ac League campaign last Tuesday against visiting Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, fans would be on the edge of their seats once more.
It would be another one-goal game, with the SCH Blue Devils holding leads in the middle of each half and Charter rallying both times. PC pulled into an 8-8 tie four seconds before halftime, and late in the second half the two teams were locked up at 15-15. With half-a-minute left, Quakers senior Avery Shoemaker (a University of Virginia signee) cashed in on a free position for her 11th goal of the afternoon.
The Blue Devils had a similar opportunity at the other end of the field with under 20 seconds to go, but sophomore keeper Jamillah Buie came up with her ninth save of the day to assure the Quakers of a 16-15 victory.
Boiling the game down to its most basic elements, first-year PC head coach John Curtin commented “Avery put the team on her back today, and our goalie came up big.”
PC, which improved to 2-1, had opened the season by beating Downingtown West High School, 9-8, and then was edged, 7-8, by defending state independent schools champ Friends Central.
Tuesday’s win featured a hat trick by PC junior Hannah Fox, one goal by her classmate Meredith Chernak, and one by sophomore Courtney Cubbin.
Springside Chestnut Hill, which had also lost by one goal to Friends Central (11-12), slipped to 1-3 overall with Tuesday’s outcome. The Blue Devils had launched their Inter-Ac campaign the previous Thursday against powerhouse Agnes Irwin, which won 14-2.
Senior Maddy Aslansan, who will go on to play for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, led the visitors with six goals, and four were furnished by her classmate Sinéad Brierely, who has signed with St. Joseph’s University. A hat trick by junior Natalie Schwartz and one goal apiece by sophomores Taylor Ferry and Mason Rode rounded out the scoring for SCH, while junior Elsa Rall recorded a dozen saves in goal.
The Blue Devils were missing junior standout Mikaela Watson. Verbally committed to play for Stanford, Watson was at Tuesday’s game, but was sidelined by a stomach ailment.
However, after PC’s Shoemaker opened the game’s scoring in the second minute on a charge up the field, SCH netted five of the next six goals. Senior Carlin Rode assisted Schwartz for one of the markers in this string, and the other four came off of free positions; two by Aslansan, and one each by Schwartz and Brierley.
Shoemaker had scored a second goal for PC, but her team trailed, 5-2, 10 minutes into the game. The Quakers closed the gap to a single point with free-position strikes by Shoemaker and Fox, but a shot by sophomore Macaul Mellor (also on a free position) that would’ve leveled the score was turned away by the Blue Devils’ Rall.
The defenders kept fouling, and the free position opportunities were abundant. SCH had Mason Rode and Brierley score off of restarts, and with nine minutes left in the half the visitors were up by three goals once more.
Curtin, the PC skipper, said that during a time-out, “We just told them to settle it down. We said that we needed to recognize that [SCH] was looking for the fast break, so we had to slow that down. Draw controls were obviously an important part of that. When we were able to make them go into their set offense, I thought our defense did well.”
On a transition attack, a Shoemaker shot was stopped by Rall, and then the junior keeper repulsed an attempt by Fox five minutes before halftime.
PC had gone 10 minutes without a goal, but with 3:03 on the clock Shoemaker made good on a free-position chance. Now the goals came quickly for the Quakers, who struck in transition. Shoemaker hit the lower left corner with 2:38 on the board, then Fox sprinted down off the subsequent draw and tied the match at 7-7.
As the clock dipped under one minute, a pretty transition sequence of multiple passes along the right wing by the Blue Devils culminated in Schwartz finding Ferry in front of the cage, and SCH regained the lead, at 8-7. They would not take an advantage into the halftime huddle, though. Shoemaker searched for an opening on the left side of the arc, then drove in to deposit a bounce shot with just four seconds left.
At the dawn of the second half, an apparent goal by Aslansan was negated because a foul had been called, and PC’s Buie saved the second attempt by the SCH senior. Charter’s Fox scored on another free-position at the far end of the pitch, but Brierley responded in kind for the visitors, making it 9-9.
SCH spent several more minutes on offense, but could not capitalize. First, a successful shot was negated by a crease violation. The Quakers’ Buie made saves against Brierley and Aslansan, and another Blue Devil shot simply missed the cage.
Eventually, Charter went back on the attack, and in a brief span Shoemaker scored two consecutive goals to make it 11-9 with a little over 14 minutes remaining in the game. The scoreboard would be working hard the rest of the way.
Aslansan’s third strike of the day was answered by the hosts’ Chernak in short order, then the visitors strung three goals together to gain a 13-12 edge with seven-and-a-half minutes to go. Aslansan scored twice on three consecutive free positions, and on a restart for PC’s Fox, Rall came up with a save. The Blue Devil’s Schwartz, who wears number 13, scored her squad’s 13th goal by dodging a defender as she advanced from yet another free-position restart.
Two goals from Shoemaker allowed the Quakers to wrest the lead from the visitors momentarily, then a sidearm shot by Brierley brought the Blue Devils even at 14-all with 4:34 remaining.
Taking the next draw, the Devils worked the ball around on attack for a spell, but when Schwartz drove to goal with about 2:20 left, she was called for a charge. Shoemaker dashed down the right wing with the ball and then dropped it off for Cubbin, who fired into the net from in front of the cage.
Scooping up the ball off the draw and getting fouled, Aslansan went right in to score for Springside Chestnut Hill, tying the game for the final time at 15-15 with 1:41 to go.
With 31.1 showing, Shoemaker shot the eventual game winner. Coming in off a free position on the right side, she forged to the front of the goal, and brought her stick in high and close to her head under pressure from the Blue Devils. She managed to come across her body for a successful shot, making it 16-15.
The excitement didn’t end there, as SCH pocketed the draw, ran down on offense, and drew a foul. PC jumped the signal slightly, and SCH’s Ferry was reset for the free position on the left of the arc, now with 18 seconds left. Her bounce shot was blocked by Buie, and the ball bounced out to the right of the crease, where Charter’s Fox snatched it up and ran out the last few seconds.
Speaking of the junior midfielder, Coach Curtin remarked, “Hannah complements Avery really well. She’s a good smart player with a lot of natural ability. We also had Macaul and Greer [Guyer, a freshman starter] running hard, getting ground balls. A lot of people contributed.”
Purely in terms of scoring, though, the Quakers’ mentor knows his club can’t rely on a superhuman effort from Shoemaker every time out.
“Everyone in the league is going to target her,” he said, “so the girls realize that we need to get more people involved and have more than just a few scoring threats.”