by Tom Utescher
Visiting Germantown Academy put in a couple of early goals in last Friday’s Inter-Ac hockey match at Springside Chestnut Hill, but a dozen minutes into the game the host Blue Devils got on the board and were back in contention, only trailing 2-1.
The Patriots responded quickly, though, chalking up a third goal a little over a minute later, and adding a fourth marker later in the opening period. Down 4-1 at halftime, SCH came out in the second half and largely held its own, but the Devils were never able to get the margin back down under two goals, and the Pats came away with a 7-3 victory.
Springside Chestnut Hill, which started the season with a 4-1-1 mark in contests with non-league opponents, saw its overall record level out at 6-6-1 last Friday. Most of the Devils’ difficulties have come in Inter-Ac League play, where a win over Baldwin School is included in their 1-5 record. A double-round is played in the Inter-Ac, and because of a postponement earlier this month, SCH has not yet encountered Penn Charter, a team facing its own set of difficulties.
GA is the first league team that the Devils have played twice; Germantown won the first meeting, 6-1, at the end of September.
With the Patriots’ 10-0 start on the season under new head coach Jackie Connard (an ’06 alum), it was easy to forget that the team had graduated 10 players from its 2014 roster. GA then entered a rough patch as they faced the Inter-Ac’s elite teams, falling to Agnes Irwin, 3-6, and Academy of Notre Dame, 1-5.
The Patriots would lose their next league tilt as well, but against an Episcopal Academy club that has been ranked third in national polls, the final score was 4-3. The Churchwomen actually had to come from behind after GA smacked their backboard twice in the first 11 minutes of the match.
“We kept them off the scoreboard for almost 41 minutes with a very good possession game,” Coach Connard related. “That game was a great confidence builder and got us in a good frame of mind for the second round of Inter-Ac games.”
GA’s scintillating freshman, Sammy “Can’t stop her” Popper, scored two goals in the Episcopal game and assisted on the third. The ninth-grader, a junior national team member who has already made a verbal commitment to Princeton University, initiated the scoring in last Friday’s match in Chestnut Hill.
On a corner play in which she received the ball from junior Ali Crump, Popper took a few dribbles to the left from the top of the circle, then unleashed a reverse-stick shot that went in with two minutes and 33 seconds elapsed. Defenders in the circle who manage to force the freshman away from her forehand side think they’ve accomplished something, but Popper seamlessly transitions to reverse-stick mode with lethal results.
With the game still only a little over five minutes old, GA senior Shayne Cerebe made a run down toward the right post. Receiving a pass by sophomore Colleen Carrigan from the other side of the circle, Cerebe shot back across to the left to give the visitors a 2-0 lead.
After that, SCH senior goalie Frankie Reitmeyer (15 saves) and her defense denied the Patriots on a pair of penalty corners to keep the match from getting out of hand. This enabled the Devils to make a one-point game of it with a strike by 12th-grader Iman Floyd-Carroll. The SCH senior, who worked hard on the right flank throughout the match, got her goal with 18:49 still remaining in the first half.
Unfortunately for the home fans, GA quickly recovered its early momentum, going back up by two points at 17:25, when sophomore Maddie Cooper cashed in off an assist from junior Isabelle Jacobs. Later, with the clock down to 10:34, GA produced a facsimile of its second scoring play of the day, with Carrigan again assisting on a goal by Cerebe.
Even at this stage, SCH was still spending a fair amount of time in control of the ball. The Devils had also managed this against Episcopal, despite losing by a 5-0 count.
“The way our formation is set up, we only have small gaps between the different layers of players,” explained Springside Chestnut Hill head coach Katie Mersky. “We have strong seniors and juniors who can connect their passes and give us a good amount of possession.”
Despite this, some critical breakdowns had the hosts looking at a 4-1 deficit as they huddled up during the intermission.
“We had a nice little regroup at halftime,” Mersky reported. “I told them I was seeing a lack of urgency out there. We wanted to come back out and focus on the little things; communication, connections, fast transitions. I think that showed in the second half.”
SCH came out in an aggressive posture for the start of the new period, and with two-and-a-half minutes gone junior Mason Rode settled the ball in the right side of the circle and got a shot past Germantown’s sophomore goaltender, Hannah Santos (four saves). The Blue Devils were never able to string any goals together, though, and that’s a basic requirement in mounting a successful comeback.
Just over a minute after the SCH strike, GA junior Carli McCrossen delivered the ball to Cerebe to the left of the goal, and the senior completed a personal hat trick with a sharply angled shot that went in off the keeper’s pads.
With 16:33 left to play, McCrossen scored a goal of her own, putting away the rebound of the initial shot by Cooper. The visitors now had a comfortable 6-2 lead, and they maintained it despite a serious offensive thrust by the home team right around the 15-minute mark. The Devils had the ball dancing on the GA goal line for close to 10 seconds (an eternity to the defenders), but despite jabs at the ball by various players, the Patriots’ Santos kept it out.
“We’re still fighting to get that ball over the line,” remarked Mersky. “Our forwards and our mids did a great job of connecting passes and working give-and-go’s up the sideline, but we have to work on finishing.”
SCH did pick up a third goal on their next trip into the Patriots’ circle, with senior Caroline Roncolli helping Rode make it a three-goal game with just under 13 minutes to go.
That would be it for the Devils, though, and the visitors were on the attack for much of the remainder of the match. After two corners the Patriots eventually scored the final goal of the afternoon in real-time play. McCrossen got the ball to Popper near the top of the circle, and the freshman nailed her second reverse-stick goal of the afternoon.
“Springside had good energy and it was a physical game,” said GA’s Connard. “It was valuable to have the girls challenged in that way.”
Reitmeyer’s 15 stops for Springside Chestnut Hill helped prevent the Patriots from truly overwhelming the home team.
“Frankie’s been a force in the back for several seasons,” pointed out SCH mentor Mersky. “Mikaela Watson [a senior] is kind of the center of it all – she’s all over the field for us. Madi Saltzman [senior] brings her aggressive attitude from softball and it translates over to field hockey in terms of her competitive spirit. Mason Rode did an awesome job as a center connector, and Maggie King [junior] played well again and showed how much she’s raised her game from last year.”