by Tom Utescher
The field hockey schedule makers threw Mount St. Joseph right into the deep end of the talent pool this September. After opening up with a non-league win over Pennsbury High School, the Magic launched their Athletic Association of Catholic Academies campaign by facing the three teams that finished ahead of them in 2014.
The Mount weathered that early storm rather well, losing a close one, 3-2, to defending PIAA Class AA state champion Villa Maria, then getting past Merion Mercy on September 12, 1-0. In last Tuesday’s tilt with geographical rival Gwynedd Mercy Academy, last year’s league runner-up, the host Magic pulled out a 2-1 overtime victory.
In the two league wins, Mount St. Joe had to make do without fourth-year starting defender and team co-captain Taylor Grey, a senior who was injured in the Villa game and had to have eight stiches threaded through her lip.
While Grey and her 10 senior classmates provide a reliable power source for the 2015 team, a lot of the fireworks are furnished by younger players. Sophomores Natalie McNamara and Grace Wallis are demonstrating why they were already varsity starters as freshmen last fall.
Charging up front, McNamara scored a goal in each of the first four games, including the game winner in OT against Gwynedd. Wallis, a key midfield connector, assisted on that key goal and accounted for one of the two markers against Villa Maria. McNamara came to the Mount from Wyncote’s Ancillae Assumpta Academy, and Wallis is a product of St. Genevieve’s School in Flourtown.
A third current sophomore, Mary Kate Stefanowicz (Ancillae), notched a goal in the opener against Pennsbury on September 4, when senior Virginia Poliwoda struck twice and junior Margot Biamon also scored. It was junior Ava Self who accounted for the Mount’s marker in regulation play in the Gwynedd Mercy game. In the goalcage this season, the Magic have a returning starter in senior Allison McMullen, who made nine saves in last week’s battle with the GMA Monarchs.
The Mount went on the attack at the outset and controlled play for large portions of the first half. When the Monarchs made a rush, though, it was usually a genuinely threatening sortie into the Mount circle. Even with the ball in the offensive half for much of the time, the Magic defense had to stay alert, lest their hard work across the midfield line be rendered meaningless by a sudden GMA scoring charge.
During the period, the Mount would earn five penalty corners to Gwynedd’s one, and would outshoot the visitors, 10-5. The Magic’s first corner, just a minute into the contest, saw a drive from high in the circle blocked by a GMA defender, and the next several MSJ corners also bore no fruit.
Following a restart for Gwynedd in Mount’s defensive third, the Monarchs celebrated as the ball thumped into the backboard of the MSJ cage with 19:20 remaining in the first half, but there was no goal. The free hit was from just below the 23-meter line (still usually called the 25-yard line in the U.S.), and the ball was not transported five meters before it entered the circle, as the rules require from that starting position. The officials conferred briefly because the free hit had been very close to the 23, and they agreed that the ball had been spotted inside the line.
After that, an MSJ surge led by Biamon was countered by the visitors. A Mount corner with around 15 minutes left in the half didn’t produce a direct shot, but nevertheless Gwynedd called time-out with 14:38 to go in order to regroup. The flow of play changed little, though.
As the clock dropped down near three minutes, Mount St. Joe’s last corner of the period was awarded. There was not a direct shot, but the ball arrived near the feet of McNamara along the right endline.
Self, who would score on the play, related, “Natalie was off to the right of the goalie and she deflected the ball across the goal to me. I was at the left post and I tipped it in. It wasn’t a direct shot, but we had enough people around the cage that it was able to go in.”
The goal went on the board with 2:55 remaining. A Gwynedd corner sequence in the final minute was disrupted by the Mount’s Wallis, and the count was still 1-0 at the interlude. Despite a good deal of pressure by the Magic, veteran Gwynedd goalie Ava Rosati helped keep the Monarchs close. A senior who already made a verbal commitment to the University of Pennsylvania last year, Rosati would register a total of 12 saves at the Mount last week.
Although the final stats showed a Mount St. Joseph advantage in total shots (19-14) and corners (7-6) for the day, in the second half the Monarchs matched their hosts in the shot column and earned five corners to the Magic’s two.
On Gwynedd’s first corner, a little over four minutes in, a forward whiffed on the ball and the play deteriorated, but it was a different story about three minutes later. On a straightforward, well-executed restart, senior Colleen Osborne made the insertion from the left endline, and her classmate Megan DuVernois stopped the ball cleanly at the top of the circle and drove it back down into the MSJ cage. The score was knotted at 1-1 with 22:40 left to play in regulation.
Gwynedd was soon back on the attack, but a good kick save by the hosts’ McMullen kept the teams even on the board. Soon after that, the Magic called time-out, then returned to the field to play more aggressively. The visitors still had the better of the play through the middle of the period, and drew back-to-back penalty corner calls around the 10-minute mark. One the first occasion the ball leaked out of the top of the circle following the insertion, and on the second try the Magic’s Wallis broke up the GMA attack.
Late in the half, though, the Mounties became more dangerous. McNamara penetrated into the right side of the circle a number of times and had two shots stray just outside of the near post. Self and the Poliwoda sisters (Virginia and her 11th grade sibling Hanna) attacked from the opposite wing.
After verbal warnings, Gwynedd was penalized with a delay-of-game green card at the very end of regulation time. The officials later explained that the card was for denying the Mount the ability to quickly put the ball in play on a hit awarded after a Gwynedd foul. In this situation, umpires may remove a player from the field, and with the game about to enter overtime with the score still 1-1, the Monarchs would be playing six-on-seven for about the first two minutes of OT.
In the Mount huddle, Wallis related “We talked about how when you’re going into overtime, it’s about who is the better team, the more intelligent team.”
Mount St. Joe sent out Wallis, McMullen, McNamara, Biamon, Self, and two Norwood Fontbonne Academy graduates, senior Eliza Ewing and junior Marge Lynch. An early Gwynedd attack was reversed well short of the circle, and the Magic pushed up.
Wallis recounted, “Marge passed me the ball around the 25. There was a defender coming right in on me and another one coming up, so I dished the ball to Natalie and she one-timed it.”
McNamara, who scored the winning goal one minute and 44 seconds into overtime, said, “The dish-off from Grace was a great pass and I just finished it. We wanted to go hard and get it over with.”
Asked how the team had approached this particular match, Wallis explained, “We were more focused on how our team was playing than on doing something special just against Gwynedd. One thing was that we wanted to connect our passes up the field better than we did the last game.”
Self said, “We’re working well with each other, and we’re happy that we’ve beaten some of the teams that finished ahead of us last year.”
Comparing that 2014 squad to the current outfit, McNamara said, “It’s a lot of the same people, but this year we’ve really come together as a team.”