by Tom Utescher
Last Thursday, the girls of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy got themselves into the finals of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament for the second straight year by beating the team that defeated them in last year’s championship game.
Westtown School captured the 2016 title with a 1-0 win over the Blue Devils, but last week SCH (16-3-1 overall) took a 1-0 lead in the first period and then cashed in on more of its chances in the second half for a 4-0 victory. The locals had already gotten a measure of revenge for last year’s loss with a 4-1 regular-season victory over the Moose back in mid-October. Their main focus last week was getting back to the championship game.
Last year, they’d been an underdog squad which caught fire in the playoffs, but this year they came in as the Inter-Ac League runner-up and the second seed for the PIAS tournament. That meant they would get to play at home up until this Wednesday’s final at Immaculata University. There, they’ll meet number one seed and 2017 Inter-Ac champ Episcopal Academy, which recorded two one-goal wins over SCH during the league campaign this fall.
In Springside Chestnut Hill’s earlier win over Westtown this season, University of Maryland recruit Emily McNesby had fired in all four goals. In the recent rematch the senior was just one of four goalscorers, as sophomore Maddie Niebish and juniors Mo’ne Davis and Kylie Quinn found the back of the net, as well.
“It really means a lot to have different people scoring,” McNesby said, “because we know that in the final with Episcopal we’re going to need different people who can be a threat.”
Knowing that the Westtown defense would be focusing on her, she explained, “I was playing a little bit more in the midfield today. I was kind of dropping back more because it would give me some room, let me be in my own space more.”
Along with SCH and Episcopal, third-seeded Westtown and number four Penn Charter had received first-round byes in the Indy Schools tournament.
Earlier this season, it was decided that eighth-graders would be allowed to play in the PAIS tournament for the first time. SCH’s Olivia Myers immediately took advantage on this new opportunity. She and Niebish scored for the Blue Devils in their 2-0 quarterfinal victory over the 10th-seeded team, Hill School.
Penn Charter also moved ahead from this round. Gi DeMarco, the standout senior headed for Wake Forest, scored the first two goals for the Quakers and then assisted on one by 10th-grader Sara Shipon to lead Charter over number five Baldwin School. Last Thursday, PC was edged by Episcopal in the semifinals, 1-0.
Germantown Academy, the sixth seed, roared past George School in the first round, 7-0. In the quarters, markers by senior Annie Peterson and junior Ally Clark were not enough to get the Patriots past Westtown, which won the Friends Schools League title this year. Westtown prevailed over GA, 3-2, with all three goals coming from the school’s all-time leading scorer, junior Sara Oswald.
That victory came at a cost for the Moose, though. Starting goalie Natalie Neumann, a junior who has made a verbal commitment to Lafayette College, received a red card and thus was unable to play on Thursday at SCH.
Originally from Dundee, Westtown’s Scott Bissett was one of two Scottish head coaches on the sidelines at Springside Chestnut Hill that afternoon. A few hundred yards away, the SCH boys posted a 2-1 PAIS semifinal win over Episcopal Academy and its mentor from Glasgow, David Knox.
The girls’ game got underway with an outside serve by Westtown’s Oswald that was caught in the air by SCH starting goalie Sena Houessou-Adin, a fellow junior. On the first corner of the day, Springside sent its kick clear through the box a little under eight minutes in.
Westtown came back across midfield but lost possession, and Blue Devils senior Grace Rorke (who’ll play for Dartmouth) boomed the ball back up to the SCH offensive third. Niebish settled the ball out on the right wing and hammered a hard shot over into the far side of the Westtown net. The winning goal was on the board eight minutes and 47 seconds into the match.
After that, though, the score didn’t change the rest of the half, despite some promising opportunities for both sides. Various Springside Chestnut Hill players sent a number of good crosses inside, but fellow Blue Devils were just a step or two away from making contact in front of the visitors’ goal.
Late in the half, a blast from the right side of the box by Westtown’s Oswald had the home fans on edge until they saw the ball travel a little outside of the upper left corner. Scrambling out to make saves, the Devils’ Houessou-Adin collided with Westtown players twice and got up slowly the second time. This was during the final minute of the half, and SCH, as usual, would be sending out freshman keeper Julia Wilbekaitis to play the second period.
Intent on reinforcing their slim lead, the Blue Devils immediately attacked when play resumed after the interval, earning several corner kicks that did not produce any really dangerous shots. After this SCH’s Davis, who had made some good centering passes earlier in the game, ran onto a loose ball in the middle of the box and cranked up a shot of her own. The ball zipped past a defender and into the net, and the first insurance goal went in the books with six minutes and 41 seconds elapsed.
The count rose to 3-0 just a few minutes later. McNesby tried to break in toward the cage from the right wing but was steered out toward the endline. Nevertheless, she was able to launch a sharply-angled shot that caught the far side of the Westtown goal.
The Moore generated a stretch of offense later on and the Devils’ Wilbekaitis was called to make a few saves near the right post, but down the stretch SCH was back on the attack once more. With five minutes left freshman JoJo McShane had a near miss wide to the right, and at 4:17 the final score went up in lights. Here, McNesby’s sister Meghan (a sophomore) delivered the ball to Quinn out on the right wing, and the junior drove it across inside the far post.
Soon, Springside Chestnut Hill was officially returning to the finals, and to its third meeting this fall with Episcopal. In the first two encounters, the Blue Devils had created many first-half scoring chances, but came away with just one goal in the two losses (2-1, 1-0).
“We want to score early against them this time,” Emily McNesby said. “We need to be very organized and defend all over the field, so we can get the ball and use our speed up front. When we have opportunities, we need to make sure we take shots that count.”