by Tom Utescher
Last Monday Springside Chestnut Hill Academy won a lacrosse match by a single goal at the Academy of Notre Dame for the second time this season.
The first meeting ended with a 9-8 tally, but last Friday’s 12-11 SCH victory had more serious consequences for the host Irish, since the game was a quarterfinal bout in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament.
Notre Dame, with a better overall record than the Blue Devils (12-6 vs. 9-8), was seeded fourth for the tourney, but was eliminated by number five SCH, which started Monday’s game by falling into an 0-4 hole. The locals were back within two by halftime, at 5-7, and then they outscored the Main Line maids 7-4 in the second period.
SCH head coach Allison Thomas noted that her team has spread around the scoring load pretty well for most of the season. That pattern continued last Monday as junior Mikaela Watson scored three of her four goals in the pivotal second half, while senior Sinéad Brireley recorded a hat trick and junior Natalie Schwartz and sophomore Taylor Ferry each found the net twice. Senior Maddy Aslansan provided the other goal, and junior goalie Elsa Rall finished with 15 saves.
“Elsa had some saves at the most perfect time,” Thomas remarked. “She’s been unbelievable the whole season and we owe her so much. She’s been averaging 15, 16 saves per game.”
Rall and her defense had their hands full with Notre Dame’s sophomore point machine, Claire Nappi. She got the home side off to a strong start with five first-half markers, but while she finished with a game-high eight goals, the Irish offense didn’t get a lot of help elsewhere. Single strikes by juniors Lauren Brady and Caroline Allen and by sophomore Kenzie Irvine accounted for the rest of Notre Dame’s total.
With the victory, Springside Chestnut Hill reached double figures in its win column, but back in the middle of April, the Blue Devils had owned a 1-5 record that included a pair of losses on last-minute markers by the opposition.
The next time out, the Hill girls themselves won on a late goal, getting past Germantown Friends 13-12 after losing to the Tigers by a single point for three years in a row.
“I think that was a turning point for our season because that’s when we really saw what we could do when we played together,” Thomas explained. “We began communicating better, and when we started to win more games it reinforced a positive attitude. Looking back to our close games, we worked a lot in practice on specific situations; man-up, man-down, draw situations, trying to protect a lead.”
In the stretch of games bookended by the regular season win over GFS and last week’s tournament victory over the Irish, SCH went 9-3, with the three losses coming against Inter-Ac mainstays Agnes Irwin and Episcopal and non-league power Unionville High School.
The Devils were a little slow to put the lessons they’d learned into practice at Note Dame in last Monday’s PAIS encounter. In just over six minutes, the Irish acquired four unanswered goals, all sourced from the stick of Nappi.
“She was very pumped up and she took it to us in the first half,” SCH’s Thomas said. “She’s very fast and she’s a threat you always have to be worried about.”
Notre Dame had lost a starter due to injury about two weeks earlier, but Springside Chestnut Hill had only learned during warm-ups that ailing sophomore Mason Rode was simply not in condition to play. It would take some time for the Blue Devils to get their bearings, but after the home team’s fourth goal the locals got on the board, with Stanford recruit Watson pocketing the ball off the draw and going down to score.
A little later, as the middle of the first period approached, Brierley (a St. Joseph’s signee) first got the better of an insolated defender to score, and then netted a second goal off of a free position. Notre Dame answered the two goals with free-position shots by Brady and Nappi (her fifth of the half), but two real-time attempts from right on the crease were thwarted by the Blue Devils’ keeper, Rall.
That made it 6-3 with seven minutes to go until halftime, and just after that Notre Dame goalie Kat Land (eight saves) stopped a ball fired by Ferry for the visitors. SCH eventually got its fourth point about four minutes later, courtesy of Aslansan. The senior was closely marked out on the right side of the fan, but she pivoted around her rival while changing stick hands, freeing herself for the shot.
Allen scored for the home side with a minute remaining, but the Blue Devils’ Brierley had the final word in the opening period, sinking a high shot off a free position with 28 seconds left to make it 7-5 at the interlude.
As the second half got underway, SCH increasingly began to control the draws as the lanky, long-limbed Watson asserted herself in the circle.
“Mikaela stepped up huge on the draw,” Thomas said. “All we said to her at halftime was ‘use your height.’ She was definitely a game-changer today.”
The junior had her first shot blocked and saw her second bounce off of the top right corner of the goal frame. SCH stayed on offense, and had senior Carlin Rode forced out of bounds on the right sideline. On the inbounds play, she lobbed the ball to Schwartz on the near side of the arc, and the junior scored with eight minutes elapsed in the period.
Less than two minutes later Watson was awarded a free position on the outside, and she penetrated through a double-team to score, leveling the match at 7-7. The future Stanford stickster seized the ball off of the following draw, forged into the left side of the arc, then passed the ball across the front of the cage to set up a second goal by Schwartz.
Notre Dame’s go-to girl, Nappi, pulled the Irish even at 8-8 with 11:23 left to play, but the Blue Devils would score four of the next five goals as the clock wound down to seven-and-a-half minutes remaining.
This stretch started with an unusual goal that followed another draw taken by Watson. She got the ball to Ferry, who fired into the crossbar. The ball deflected straight up into the air, and while players from both schools milled about below, it descended inside the crease and caromed into the cage.
Irwine helped Notre Dame tie the contest one last time at 9-9, then SCH sandwiched two goals by Watson around one by Ferry, who quick-sticked a feed from Schwartz. There was still 7:38 left on the clock when these three markers raised the tally to 12-9, and with six minutes left Nappi put the Irish in double figures.
Soon after that, Rall turned away a free-position bounce shot by the hosts, but Notre Dame’s fortunes improved when the Devils were left shorthanded after earning a yellow card with 2:17 to go. Notre Dame missed a shot but recovered the rebound behind the cage, and eventually a free-position call netted Nappi her eighth goal of the day on a low shot. The visitors called time-out with 1:54 remaining, now only up 12-11.
Off of the next draw, the ball was batted around on the ground for some time, but the Blue Devils were glad that it kept moving away from their defensive half. Aslansan finally scooped it up and the Devils drained some time off the clock. When Schwartz was checked illegally the countdown paused at 0:48, and the visitors retained possession.
Just over 10 ticks later Aslansan had the ball checked away, but quickly got it back. Soon, Watson had possession inside the attack zone on the right, and she took the ball down behind the Notre Dame goal and made the Irish chase her until time ran out.
UPDATE: In a regular-season match that had been postponed and was made up last Thursday, the Blue Devils beat Notre Dame for the third time this spring, 12-10. The outcome allowed host SCH to rise into a tie with Notre Dame for third place in the final Inter-Ac League standings. The Devils finished 11-8 overall.