SCH standout Meghan McCool (right) and fellow senior Julia Hondros of Episcopal Academy slide down as they pursue the soccer ball. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

SCH standout Meghan McCool (right) and fellow senior Julia Hondros of Episcopal Academy slide down as they pursue the soccer ball. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

From the start of the soccer season the girls at Springside Chestnut Hill believed that Episcopal Academy would be one of their more formidable Inter-Ac League opponents, and that evaluation was underscored on September 29 when the EA Churchwomen upset Penn Charter, the defending Inter-Ac and Pa. Independent Schools State Champion.

Therefore, even though host SCH didn’t defeat visiting Episcopal in a league match last Thursday, the 4-4 tie the two teams produced was encouraging for the Blue Devils. They came away with an overall record of 6-3-1 and they were 1-2-1 in the Inter-Ac, where both losses came against powerful Germantown Academy.

Coming off a 2-1 deficit at halftime, SCH gained a 3-2 lead early in the second half, then Episcopal scored and the game eventually went into overtime. The Churchwomen went ahead, but Blue Devils senior Meghan McCool came up with her third goal of the day to tie the contest for the final time with two minutes remaining. EA junior Molly O’Brian also had a hat trick for her team, including Episcopal’s overtime goal. The Blue Devils’ junior goalie, Destini Curry, was credited with 15 saves.

“We know we’re considered the underdogs against them, but we really came out to play today,” said McCool, who will sign with the University of Virginia and who currently is the only Pennsylvania player on the United States Under-20 Team. “Episcopal played at a high level, and we were able to respond to that. It was a great game; everyone was working so hard and fought the whole time.”

SCH’s second-year head coach, John Westfield, said that while he didn’t have a game plan specifically tailored to the Newtown Square squad, “We knew we would have to step up all aspects of our game against Episcopal. This was good game for us to build on and it should help our confidence. For the last few weeks we’ve been getting better every time out.”

It didn’t look like the Blue Devils would maintain that trend when Thursday’s bout got underway, as the Churchwomen controlled much of the play in the opening period and had O’Brian give them a 2-0 lead. Under new head coach Ben Wilson, EA arrived in Chestnut Hill with a 3-0 mark in the Inter-Ac and a 5-1-1 overall record (the loss was to Lawrenceville School).

Two minutes before halftime, Springside Chestnut Hill got on the board when McCool curved a direct kick around the wall of EA defenders and into the cage. Still, a better effort would be needed in the second period.

“We struggled in the first half keeping our shape and communicating,” Westbrook remarked. “We made some little adjustments at halftime, but the overall thing was to play more cohesively.”

“We knew we had to raise our level,” said McCool, who pointed out that SCH now has the personnel to play better soccer than the team did last year.

While McCool and sophomore Emily McNesby are still the clear standouts, there have been valuable new additions such as center mid Marissa Brown, a sophomore transfer, and new freshman in school, Nayah Moore. Senior Ashley Carabajal has moved up to fill the leadership role of team co-captain along with McCool, the only other 12th-grader on the roster. Additionally, last year’s large crop of younger varsity players has improved.

“We’re able to pass the ball through the midfield better instead of just kicking it up the field,” McCool said. “We have more options on the outside, so I can peel off into space and someone else can run through.”

She also spoke of her coach, saying “He’s helped us tremendously. He’s tough on us because he wants us to play up to our potential, and when we do well, we know that’s the reason.”

Eight minutes into the second half on Thursday, the senior star tied the game, taking the ball into the box herself and burying it. Attacking again a little over five minutes later, the Blue Devils were awarded a penalty kick when a foul was called on EA a few feet inside the middle of the 18-yard-line. It may seem strange, but even the widely experienced McCool can get nervous in these situations, and she did not take the PK.

“Meg deferred to Ashley, who’s pretty calm and collected,” Westfield revealed. “Ashley stepped up like a senior captain and put the ball away.”

There were still 26 minutes and 40 seconds to go in the second half, a long time for SCH to try and hold its slim lead. Just under 14 minutes remained when a senior came through for the other side; EA’s Jessica Shanahan tied the contest at 3-3 as a group of Churchwomen applied pressure in the box.

The visitors now pushed for a go-ahead goal and almost got it. On a strong shot, SCH’s Curry knocked the ball down, but it rolled away from her perilously close to the goal line. It was cleared away by the freshman, Moore, who gave the Blue Devils a solid defensive performance along with sophomore Lucy Lamb, juniors Jazmin Contreras and Taylor Ferry and others. A very well-known freshman, Mo’ne Davis, played out on the wing and got a lot of touches on the ball in the midfield.

With the score still 3-3, the game proceeded into the standard Inter-Ac overtime; two five-minute periods, played in full, with the teams changing ends in between.

Destini Curry, the junior goalkeeper for Springside Chestnut Hill, makes a save as Episcopal Academy seeks a tying goal in the second half. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Destini Curry, the junior goalkeeper for Springside Chestnut Hill, makes a save as Episcopal Academy seeks a tying goal in the second half. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

As the Blue Devils gathered around their bench before the OT began, Westfield told them, “Don’t waste what you did in the second half; give absolutely everything you have out there.”

Episcopal attacked and Curry was called upon to make a diving save with a little over one minute elapsed. EA got to her with 2:42 left in the first five-minute stint, when O’Brian attacked through the left side of the box and scored her third goal of the day. Near the end of the first OT, SCH sent the ball into box following a restart and knocked it around until Moore shot it a little wide to the left.

The hosts now entered the second overtime session down a goal.

“There wasn’t a lot of time, but the girls didn’t want to accept a loss and they kept playing hard the whole way,” Westfield said. “Even our sideline was all pumped up, and it was great to see the support they were giving to the girls on the field.”

Halfway through the final five minutes Episcopal still led, but the Blue Devils were on the move up the right wing. The ball went out over the sideline off of Episcopal, and SCH sent the throw-in down close to the border of the box. Sophomore Grace Rorke played the ball into the right side of the penalty zone to McCool, who settled it, dodged a defender, and fired across into the left side of the cage with 2:10 showing up on the board.

Even if McCool had not hit the mark precisely, the Blue Devils had a player perfectly positioned at the far post, which indicated that Westfield’s lessons have been sinking in.

The Churchwomen took the play to the other end as the clock dipped under two minutes, and even after Curry made her final save she remained under attack. Soon after a hair-raising near-miss by EA freshman Anna Salvucci, the game ended with the tally still 4-4.

McCool’s final tying goal for SCH was her 18th of the season and the 116th of her career. She had passed the 100-goal mark in a match against Westtown in mid-September. After that, she missed three games while playing with her U.S. team in Honduras.

“It’s hard to miss games, and it took me a little while to get back into the swing of things here,” she said. “Everyone has been so understanding and encouraging, and that really helped me.”