by Tom Utescher
In a rain-soaked soccer match last Thursday afternoon, visiting Mount St. Joseph Academy logged the lion’s share of ball possession time and outshot the opposition 9-4. However, when the scoreboard came to rest at the end of the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies encounter, it certified a 2-1 victory for the host Pandas of Nazareth Academy.
It was only the second win of the season for Nazareth (2-6-1), which led 1-0 at halftime. The Mounties, who tied the contest early in the second half but then gave up the deciding goal with less than four minutes to play, left Northeast Philly with a 5-4 overall record, falling back to the .500 mark in the AACA, at 3-3. The other two league losses had come against defending champ Villa Joseph Marie and second-place Gwynedd Mercy.
Thursday’s initial meeting of the season between the Magic and the Nazareth Pandas had been postponed from its original date in early September. Earlier last week, the Magic claimed a 3-2 overtime win against Villa Maria Academy for the second time this fall.
Villa led last Tuesday’s tilt 2-0 more than halfway through the second period, but in the last 15 minutes of regulation the Mount got goals from high scorer Angela Gervasi and fellow junior Ashley Pyne to send the contest into OT. As in the league opener against the Hurricanes back on September 8, it was Gervasi (a product of St. Philip Neri School in Lafayette Hill) who scored the winning goal in overtime.
In practice the next day, the Magic worked on their passing game and did some shooting drills. Yet at Nazareth the following afternoon, head coach Catherine Kulp noted, “Those were the two things that were lacking.”
The Magic attacked right from the beginning of the game, with Gervasi and others leading a number of forays across the Nazareth 18 yard line. Things just didn’t click for the visitors, though. A couple of shots tracked just outside the right post, and even more often, the Mount booted the ball up from the midfield and saw Panda goalie Alexis Gallagher (five saves) scramble out to grab it just before a charging MSJ forward could get there.
It rained throughout much of the game, so the Magic may not have felt comfortable trying to make their usual touch passes.
“We were just hitting the long ball and chasing, and that’s not us,” Kulp commented. “That’s never been successful for us.
“Usually our game is a possession game, with short passes,” she continued. “The whole first half we just didn’t connect our passes at all. It threw us off, and we never really recovered, though we did play better in the second half. Everyone knew what was wrong; we just couldn’t correct it on the field.”
Near the midpoint of the first half, the Magic had the frustration of seeing the Pandas score on one of their few trips into the box at the visitors’ end. Nazareth junior forward Kristen Lichtner was ready to seize the opportunities that arose. She would score both of her team’s goals, and she put the Pandas on the board first with 22:52 remaining in the opening period.
The Mount kept generating offensive activity at the other end. With about five minutes to go before halftime, junior Paige Comtois (the Mount’s assist leader) carried the ball across the 18, but could not quite line up her shot before Nazareth’s Gallagher gobbled up the ball.
Nazareth came upfield a little later and made a rush across the 18 on the left, with Lichtner shooting the ball a little outside of the near post.
On a corner kick in the final minute, the Magic drove the ball low into the legs of a Nazareth defender, and they still trailed 1-0 at the intermission.
Early in the second half the visitors continued to attack, and once more saw Nazareth keeper Gallagher snatch the ball away almost from under the feet of Comtois. After the Panda goalie turned away an MSJ header a little later, Nazareth made a charge at the other end, but Mount’s Maddie Feeney, a poised sophomore back, cleared the ball out of danger in the nick of time.
“She’s a real bright spot,” exclaimed Coach Kulp. “She has great patience in the one-v-one; I’m really impressed with her. We have five or six backs who give us different things in terms of speed and skill.”
Back on offense, the Magic had Comtois controlling the ball on the left side of the box while her junior classmate Maddie Finnegan ran opposite. A lateral pass to Finnegan resulted in the tying goal for the Magic, which went up on the board with 25:53 remaining.
Pyne, whose speed and foot skills immediately made her a starter back in her freshman season, was working hard in the middle of the field, frequently disrupting Nazareth’s transition game and furthering the Mount’s aims.
“She likes playing that attacking midfield position and does it very well,” Kulp said. “The other team will trap the ball nicely and think they’re going to hold it, and Ashley will take it right off their feet.”
The Magic had a chance to go ahead just two minutes after Finnegan’s goal, but an open shot was fired way above the crossbar. With 15 minutes left Nazareth received an opportunity to retake the lead when a hand ball was called on the Mount outside the box. On the Pandas’ 25-yard direct kick from the middle, MSJ senior goalie Charlotte Sands (three saves) calmly caught the ball.
The clock was down to eight minutes when Comtois got loose for a solo run across the middle of the 18, but she hit her shot at Gallagher instead of one of the corners. The Nazareth goalie also grabbed the ball on a through pass by Pyne that was intended for Gervasi.
As the clock crossed the four-minute mark the hosts took the ball across the Magic’s 18 on the right and dished it left to Lichtner, who once again made good for the Pandas, giving them the game-winner. The Mount could not come up with another equalizer in the short time remaining, and suffered a disappointing loss to a team in the league’s lower tier.
“Kudos to Nazareth for stepping up and playing well on a rainy day,” said Kulp. “We seemed to get thrown off by it, but that’s no excuse because conditions were the same for both teams. Our team had a letdown, and now we’ll just have to sit back and regroup, knowing that we can play better than we showed today.”