Two senior team captains battle for the ball during last week’s Inter-Ac League opener; Germantown Academy’s Sophie Axenroth (left) and Springside Chestnut Hill’s Ashley Carabajal. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Two senior team captains battle for the ball during last week’s Inter-Ac League opener; Germantown Academy’s Sophie Axenroth (left) and Springside Chestnut Hill’s Ashley Carabajal. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

For last Monday’s 2015 Inter-Ac League girls’ soccer opener, both host Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and the visiting Germantown Academy Patriots were missing a few regular starters. This worked in favor of the team with deeper talent, GA, who built on a relatively modest 2-0 halftime lead to come away with a 6-1 win.

Meghan McCool, the Virginia-bound senior standout for the SCH Blue Devils, was away on a trip to Honduras with the U.S. Under-20 Team.

The Lions also had sophomore Marissa Brown and freshman Kylie Quinn out of action, and another one of the team’s ninth-grade starters, Sena Houessou-Adin, got hurt during the match.

GA was missing senior veteran Kayla Sieberlich, and the Patriots also decided to have sophomore Bailey Gilmore and freshman Riley Axenroth sit out to recover from some minor wear-and-tear. Gilmore has been one of the leading scorers this fall for the 5-0-1 Patriots, and Axenroth is following in the footsteps of older sister Sophie, a senior co-captain for the 2015 squad. The other senior captains are offensive powerhouse Emmy Dolaway and goalkeeper Kat Stambaugh. Sophomore Mackenzie Pluck, a member of the U.S. junior national player pool who has already committed to Duke, adds scoring punch and excellent ball skills all over the field.

Pluck could be content to distribute the ball in last week’s league opener, finishing with one assist as other Patriots were active in the box. The reliable Dolaway rang up a hat trick and assisted sophomore Annie Peterson on the second goal in the game. For GA’s last two points of the afternoon, junior Lindsay Naber first assisted senior Caroline Sloane and then scored a goal of her own.

“In many parts of the game, we moved the ball fluidly and strung together four, five, or six passes,” observed Chris Nelson, now in his fifth season as the Patriots’ head coach. “We’ve been trying to work on sustained possession and creating scoring chances off of that. I think you saw that on Caroline Sloane’s goal, where we had a good through ball, a good collection, a nice slip across the middle, and a good finish.”

After the visitors attained a 4-0 advantage in the middle of the second half, the host Blue Devils got on the board thanks to slender and skillful sophomore Emily McNesby.

“She’s been great,” stated SCH second-year skipper John Westfield. “She comes to play every day and always works hard offensively and defensively. I think the goal she had today gave her seven goals in our last three games.”

Still, for a team that does not have many players who pursue soccer outside of the school season, the absence of McCool had a huge impact.

“It’s not the first game we’ve played without her,” Westfield noted. “With a good team like GA, we needed to rise to the challenge, but overall, we just didn’t seem ready to play.

“We’ve played well in spots, but we haven’t put a full game together,” he continued. “Part of that is because there haven’t been many times when we’ve had our full team available to play. We play a lot of freshmen, and early in the season the whole ninth-grade class was away on a trip. We’ve missed some other people here and there for various reasons.”

Some of the Blue Devils’ best efforts against GA came early in the game, when the hosts pushed up on attack for much of the first seven or eight minutes of action. However, they were not able to get off any really threatening shots at GA’s Stambaugh (three saves total).

Before long the flow of the game reversed, and about nine minutes in Peterson, a tall 10th-grader, headed the ball just over the SCH crossbar.

GA quickly regained possession and Peterson followed up with a shot from the right side of the box that angled wide of the left post.

The Blue Devils cleared the ball out momentarily, but soon GA junior Brynn Skelly sent it back across the midfield. Dolaway gathered the ball in and drove straight in at the right post before firing past the hosts’ junior goalie, Destini Curry (eight saves) with 29:20 remaining in the first half.

With the clock down to 23:55, what proved to be the game-winning goal went into the books as Peterson converted with an assist from Dolaway. A little later, SCH’s McNesby launched a dangerous shot from the left side of the box, but it was a close miss outside the near post. The half would conclude with the score still 2-0 in favor of the visitors.

In contrast to the way the weather had been much of the time in the early weeks of the fall season, conditions were overcast and slightly chilly, with a few light sprinklings from the clouds.

Germantown attacked right away at the start of the second half, but Curry was able to fend off a shot by one of the Patriots’ talented freshmen, Ally Clark. After an SCH boot by McNesby went wide of the right post about six minutes in, the visitors came right up the field and made a long serve that was headed just over the Devils’ den by Skelly.

The Patriots kept the pressure on Curry, who survived attempts by Dolaway and Peterson, as well as scoring bids by Clark and fellow freshman Katie Hackley (Hackley’s sister Madison and classmate Victoria Mauro were the two seniors who graduated from Germantown’s 2014 Pa. Independent Schools runner-up team. A third Hackley sister, Caroline, is a junior on the 2015 GA squad).

Thanks largely to Curry’s efforts, the score was still 2-0 some 17 minutes into the second half. In fact, the count had been unchanged for roughly 40 minutes of playing time. Things would now change quickly, though, with GA’s Dolaway striking twice in the middle of second period in a span of two minutes and 10 seconds. First, she outsped a Springside Chestnut Hill defender near the 18 and shot into the left side of the cage. Next, she received an assist from Pluck to complete a personal hat trick with 21:30 left to play, putting GA up 4-0.

“We lack depth, so as it got a little later in the game, fitness played a role,” Westfield explained.

He added that some very loose marking by the Blue Devils was also a factor throughout the game.

“When you give people five or six yards of space to play soccer, it becomes an easy game,” he said. “We needed to take them on and not worry so much about getting beat.”

The make-up of the GA team means that the Patriots are able to give weary starters a break without much of a drop-off in their level of play.

Nelson commented, “I feel like we’re pretty deep, and we have girls who really give us a lot when they come in off the bench.”

The lone goal of the game for host SCH came on a direct kick from just beyond the middle of the 18 yard line with 17 minutes remaining. The boot by McNesby curved around the right end of the GA player wall and the ball went in at the near post.

The Blue Devils survived a charge by GA’s Pluck with about 11 minutes to go, but the Patriots would put in their fifth goal with 6:38 on the clock. A nice passing sequence concluded with Naber delivering the ball to Sloane for a short shot in the vicinity of the right post.

With little doubt about the outcome at this juncture, SCH pulled Curry out of the cage and had sophomore Morgan Bender finish out the game.

“We couldn’t afford to lose more people, so considering the score of the game by that point we were just trying to get through it and avoid injuries,” Westfield said.

It was actually GA which suffered a late injury when junior Jamie Hermance left the field with 2:51 to go, but before the clock dipped under two minutes, GA had rung up a sixth goal, courtesy of Naber.

On the defensive end, Nelson praised the work that was done by Nicole Marion, Rachael Villari, and the elder Axenroth sister in front of the keeper, Stambaugh.