by Tom Utescher
Back during the regular season in Friends Schools League lacrosse, the Germantown Friends girls lost an overtime match at Shipley School, 8-7. Last Friday GFS returned to Shipley’s artificial turf complex in Gladwyne for an FSL semifinal contest, and this time the Tigers were missing dominating junior midfielder Celia Meyer, who has made a verbal commitment to play at Colgate University. A week or so after the first encounter with the Gators, Meyer, a Chestnut Hill native, had broken her leg at her sister’s birthday party, of all things.
Without her on the field, the rest of the Tigers raised their game, and in a defensive struggle on Friday, third-seeded GFS upset number two Shipley, 5-4. The visitors only allowed one goal to be scored against them in the second period after the teams reached halftime tied at 3-3.
Germantown Friends had ended the regular season with a 5-2 record, with the second loss coming against Friends Central. FC and Shipley had both been 6-0 prior to their meeting last Tuesday in the final game of the regular season.
With a 15-8 victory in that match, Friends Central locked up the top seed for the playoffs, and then won its semifinal bout over number four Moorestown Friends on Friday, 17-5. The two-time defending champion Phoenix advanced into this week’s championship game against GFS, the winner of the two/three semifinal.
After Meyer went down, the Tigers knew they had a large hole to fill.
Longtime GFS coach Katie Bergstrom-Mark commented, “The team has done a really good job of everyone taking just a little more responsibility, and of no one feeling like they have to take on all the responsibility for generating those goals and defensive stops in Celia’s place. Celia herself has been great. She sees the field well and she’s been out here helping the younger players. Overall, there’s just been an increased focus on teamwork and backing each other up.”
The GFS varsity had already been relatively young, with Livi Pinover and Sophie Smith the only seniors on the squad. Among the late-season adjustments Bergstrom-Mark made was moving freshman Curran McLaughlin from defense up to midfield and having her take center draws in Meyer’s place. Her classmate Maribel Carpenter was also shifted up to midfield.
“The freshman class has really stepped up,” Bergstrom-Mark said. “We also have Katie Benoliel and Lily Seldin doing a great job, so we have four freshmen starting.”
The Tigers’ junior standout in goal, Corin Grady, made a save on the opening shot of last Friday’s game, denying Gators sophomore Ashleigh Gundy. GFS went up the field on offense but quickly turned the ball over, and back at the other end a bounce shot by sophomore Grace Gordon got the Gators on the scoreboard first, with two minutes and eight seconds elapsed.
Just over a minute later, Shipley went up 2-0 thanks to an approach from the rear by 10th-grader Anna Camden, a 6’2″ NCAA Division I prospect in basketball. Right then, Gators fans couldn’t have anticipated the fact that their team would only score twice over the next 46 minutes of playing time.
In some ways, the Gators brought this on themselves. Many shots were poorly chosen, as attackers carried the ball where Germantown’s Grady could see it all the way through their drive and release. Other attempts were just careless, including some overly-hard bounce shots that would’ve been expected had Shipley been a team that was used to playing on grass and now was trying to adjust to turf.
Of course, Grady played a major role also, making 10 saves and stepping out of the crease to intercept a number of Shipley passes.
“She adds that eighth-defender component for us,” Bergstrom-Mark said. “She’s not afraid to come out on the field, and she’s quick enough and skilled enough to hold her own. It’s also as if her composure is contagious; she just settles the whole defense down and that’s really important with all of our young players.”
After falling behind early, the Tigers got on the board with six-and-a-half minutes gone. From a few yards outside the crease on the right, sophomore Natalie Harrity passed the ball across the face of the goal to set up classmate Jane MacRae’s shot from the left side. Then, with 14:56 remaining in the half, sophomore Daisy Lentz found a corner from the right side of the arc, tying the match at 2-2.
Yet another 10th-grader, Shipley goalie Grace Donnelly, made one of her eight saves in the game on another shot by Lentz, then the Gators called time-out with 12:02 left in the opening period. Donnelly has made a verbal commitment to play for the University of Colorado at Boulder, where current Penn Charter senior Macaul Mellor is heading this fall.
Returning to the field, the Gators found that whatever plan they’d devised would become more difficult to execute due to a yellow-card penalty at 10:09. Germantown Friends forged ahead, 3-2, at 8:59, with MacRae looping behind the goal and then back out front again to score for the visitors.
With the clock down to 4:48, Shipley’s Camden also began a drive from behind the cage, moving out front on the left and penetrating the Tigers’ goal to level the score. In the final minutes of the period, Shipley was up on offense for a sustained stretch, but the last shot of the half was repulsed by Germantown’s Grady and the intermission arrived with the score still 3-3.
The Gators were playing a more physical game than their guests, and predictably, the Shipley sideline wanted to hear fewer whistles out on the field while the GFS staff was calling for more.
“I think that physical teams sometimes threw us off our game earlier in the season, but the young players have matured,” Bergstrom-Mark said. “We said at halftime that Shipley wasn’t going to go away, that they would keep pressuring us and we just had to become more determined, play together, and play smart. We wanted to continue to go for the ground balls, and I thought that predicting where the ball was going really worked for us today.”
Early in the second period, a shot by Lentz hit the crossbar, then GFS found the net a little under six minutes in. Here, junior Lindsey Golden was awarded a free position on the center hashmark and bounced in a shot to push the Tigers ahead.
Later, Shipley keeper Donnelly stopped two shots by McLaughlin of GFS, one just before and one during a yellow card penalty on the Gators. Back at full strength, the hosts made a threatening transition charge up the field, but it ended with a Grady save on a shot by the Gators’ Gundy.
Shipley attackers were also continuing to put too much mustard on their bounce shots, sending the ball sailing harmlessly over the goal. The Gators called time-out with 11:10 to go, and the pep-talk proved productive, as just 35 seconds after the action resumed, Gundy came from behind the goal on the left to tie the game at 4-4.
The home team controlled the following draw and went back up on the attack, but this possession would end with Grady darting out of the GFS crease to intercept a pass. The Tigers then went down the field in quest of a go-ahead goal. Denied several times by Shipley’s Donnelly earlier in the period, Germantown’s McLaughlin now put a shot past her, driving from the right and bouncing the ball in with 7:26 remaining in the game.
This would hold up as the game-winning goal, although just after the six-minute mark a penalty that sent Smith into the box would cause a bit of anxiety among the vocal crowd of Tiger fans on the far sideline.
“It was great to have the parents come over here to support us, as well as a number of our students,” Bergstrom-Mark noted.
After Germantown Friends went ahead for what would be the final time and then killed the penalty on Smith, Shipley torpedoed its own comeback hopes by earning a yellow card with three minutes and 17 seconds left to play. The Tigers called time-out at the same time, then held the ball up on the offensive end as the clock ran down.
Once back at full strength, the Gators had the personnel to more effectively double-team the ball, but instead they picked up another yellow card with 33 seconds remaining. The final horn soon trumpeted a GFS victory.
As well as praising the work of Grady in goal, Bergstrom-Mark noted that her mark-out defenders, Smith and sophomore Marlie Golden, were instrumental in containing the Shipley attack.
On offense, she remarked, “We really shared the ball and we were able to swing it around quickly. We tried to work the ball around the defense rather than go through it. Every kid on the field touched the ball today, so it truly was a team effort.”