GFS junior Schuyler Nissen (left) carries the ball upfield against Friends Central’s Abby Crowley during last Friday’s league championship match. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

If the lacrosse players at Germantown Friends had known beforehand that they would hold Friends Central’s top two scorers to a combined five goals in last Friday’s Friends Schools League finals, the host Tigers would’ve probably figured they were going to win.

However, the visiting Phoenix were able to distribute their scoring between seven different players in the match, keeping the GFS defense off-balance and winning the FSL championship for the fourth year in a row, 14-11. No more than two goals separated the finalists for much of the game. Starting with a little over six minutes left, the Phoenix blitzed the host team with four straight strikes to go up 14-8. The Tigers were able to halve that deficit in the final minutes, but got no closer.

Each of these FSL powers entered the game ranked among the top 15 teams in Pennsylvania, according to the LaxPower® poll. Friends Central came away with an overall record of 17-2, and Germantown was 17-4. The Tigers had earned the top seed for the tournament by going undefeated in league play, topping the number two Phoenix, 11-10, back on April 16. FC’s victory in the rematch ended an 11-game GFS win streak that began after a non-league loss to Downingtown West High School on April 10.

GFS last won the league championship back in 2009, and every year since then the Tigers have returned to the finals, only to fall to the Phoenix. In this year’s semifinal round, GFS and Friends Central cruised to victory against number four Moorestown Friends and third-seeded Shipley, respectively.

The standard “scout” on Friends Central has been that opponents can do well if they manage the difficult task of containing co-captains Ashley Tedesco (a senior who will play for Lafayette College) and Emma Dahle (a junior), who have both scored over 200 goals during their tenure on City Line Ave.

This assessment has not been as accurate recently, as Mount St. Joseph Academy found out in an 11-9 non-league loss to the Phoenix on May 6. The Magic defense did a creditable job of holding Dahle and Tedesco to a total of four goals, but sophomore Sophie MacFarlane took up the slack by scoring five times for the Phoenix.

“They’ve had more kids step up to score for them late in the season,” confirmed Katie Bergstrom Mark, the longtime head coach of the GFS Tigers. “We concentrated on their top two, which is what won us the first game against them, but this time they really spread out the scoring.”

After Friends Central broke the ice in the opening minute, GFS quickly took what would be its only lead of the day, 2-1, on goals by junior Schuyler Nissen and senior Anna Bezhaler. Another shot by Bezhaler might have put the Tigers up by two soon after that, but the ball struck the cross bar of the cage.

The Phoenix began to pressure the ball when Germantown had it, and the hosts began to find it difficult to maintain possession. FC capitalized on its increased opportunities and moved ahead, 4-2, with a little under nine minutes remaining in the first half.

GFS recovered and began to work its way back, starting out with the first of sophomore Annie Tyson’s game-high six goals.

Tyson placed her shots expertly, a skill she also displays with a squash racquet during the winter season.

“We talked to her and said we needed her to shoot more,” Bergstrom Mark related. “She’s got a really high shooting percentage and a beautiful shot. She’s very heady and she doesn’t over-shoot in all the excitement of the moment.”

After her initial bullseye, Friends Central countered to make it 5-3, but Nissen cashed in on a free position at the other end to cut the lead to one. With 2:15 to go in the period, Tyson brought the Tigers even at 5-5, carrying the ball in from the right wing, looking-off her defender as if intending to pass, and then going in for the shot herself.

Half-a-minute later GFS had a chance to move ahead, but FC senior goalie Aubrey Faggen (Wheaton College) made an impressive stop on an open shot by Tigers junior Claire Schmidt.

“We had some good attacking opportunities in the first half, and their goalie had some significant saves,” pointed out Germantown’s Bergstrom Mark. “Their defense got a lot of the rebounds and then they fast-breaked it up the field.”

After an FC shot hit a goalpost with half-a-minute left, it looked like the 5-5 tie would hold up until halftime, but Friends Central dealt the home team a setback by sticking in two goals in the final 14 seconds. Phoenix freshman Jesse Rubin converted on a free position for the first one, then MacFarlane tore down the field after nabbing the subsequent draw, and she scored with just two seconds left.

Speaking of the Friends Central sophomore, Bergstrom Mark said, “Their number seven is super speedy, and that created some problems for us. It was tough to keep up with her.”

As a team, the Tigers caught up with their guests seven minutes into the second half, when a goal by Tyson followed one by fellow sophomore Greta Meyer in the first minute of the new period.

After Tedesco gave Friends Central the lead for good with 16:44 remaining in the game, the Phoenix maintained possession for long stretches, eventually spreading the score to 10-7 with 8:37 to go. Germantown called time out after each of these last two FC goals, and after the second huddle broke up Tyson capitalized on a free-position opportunity. With a missed shot soon after that, a chance for GFS to cut the lead to a single point went by the boards, and now the Phoenix took the initiative once more.

Not only did the visitors score four times as the clock dropped from 6:06 to 4:15, they also captured the draws after each of those goals. Junior Kate Forrest was a force for FC late in the game, scoring three of her team’s last five markers, and assisting on another. Lowering her body posture, she fired tough-to-stop relatively flat bounce shots several times.

After going up 14-8, Friends Central pocketed the next draw but GFS junior Caroline Myran helped caused a turnover. Eventually, Tyson took a feed from 11th-grader Claire Schmidt and found the Phoenix net with 2:25 left in the contest. Schmidt scored one herself soon after that, coming from behind on the left, then rolling back outside to free herself for the shot, making it 14-10.

A nice save by FC’s Faggan was followed by a charging call against GFS as the clock ran down. Tyson scored high on the right side on a free-po with 36 seconds to go, but soon after that the final horn sounded, with the Phoenix still up by three.

The sophomore’s six goals were complemented by two by Nissen and one each for Bezhaler, Meyer, and Schmidt, and senior goalie Lauren Shinn had six saves. The Phoenix received hat tricks from Dahle and Forrest, with two goals apiece by Tedesco, Bianca Newton, and Rubin and single strikes by MacFarlane and Abby Crowley.

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