Mount senior Christina Black (left) was a formidable presence in goal in last Tuesday’s league battle. Here, Gwynedd Mercy’s Nicole Catalino (right foreground), who scored the game’s first goal, winds up for another shot. The Mount defenders include senior Millie Stefanowicz (third from left), who scored the Magic’s lone goal in the 2-1 loss to the Monarchs. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Last Tuesday’s Catholic Academies field hockey clash between the Mount St. Joseph Magic and Gwynedd Mercy was a whale of a game, and the host Monarchs proved that their breakthrough win against MSJ a year earlier was no fluke.

Late in the second half, GMA junior Corinne Persichetti cashed in on a penalty corner for a 2-1 victory. Gwynedd had also beaten the Magic in their first meeting of the 2012 season, snapping a losing streak against the Mount that had stretched back many years.

In the teams’ first encounter of 2013, the Mounties had their chances on offense, but throughout the contest they just didn’t seems as downright dangerous in the circle or in transition as the Gwynedd attackers. The Monarchs’ speedy forwards took the play to the visitors at the outset and the home team scored a little over five minutes in.

The Magic tied the game late in the first half and played better transition defense in the second half, but fouls inside the circle afforded Gwynedd a wealth of penalty corners, and the Monarchs finally converted one against Mount senior goalie Christina Black with 3:24 remaining in the game. In the first half, Persichetti’s classmate, the cat-quick Nicole Catalino, opened the scoring, and later MSJ senior Millie Stefanowicz tied the match off an assist from junior Chrissy Pascali.

The Magic would’ve found themselves in a more dire predicament if not for the superb play of their senior keeper. Black, a Lafayette Hill native who attended St. Philip Neri School, amassed 15 saves while facing a GMA offensive effort that included 13 penalty corners. At the other end, Gwynedd sophomore Ava Rosati posted seven saves while dealing with six corners for the Mount.

Black said modestly, “The defense helped me by keeping them out wide and trying to stop them before they came in the circle. Our backs also saved two shots in front of the goal.”

Prior to last week’s meeting, both teams achieved easy victories in their league openers, the Mount stopping Sacred Heart, 5-1, while Gwynedd thumped Villa Joseph Marie, 10-1. The Magic arrived at GMA with a 3-0 overall record, having beaten Neshaminy and Pennsbury in non-league bouts.

Last year in the AACA, Villa Maria made a clean sweep to go 14-0, while Mount St. Joe, which topped Gwynedd the second time they played, finished as runner-up with an 11-3 mark. The Monarchs had one more loss, splitting with Merion Mercy, and wound up third with a 10-4 record.

The Mount’s third-year mentor, Christina Post, noted that under head coach Sue Persichetti, Gwynedd has become a team that present problems which extend beyond the emotional nature of the rivalry between the two schools.

“Yeah, there’s the rivalry,” she said, “but they’re to be respected just because they’re a great team. I’m proud of how our team played and I told our girls to hold their heads up.

“Today,” she continued, “I don’t think we tested their goalie and their defense the way that we’re capable of doing. I think that we needed to be a little tighter with our stickwork in the circle and to play a little smarter. We held onto the ball too long and didn’t see people who were wide open.”

With fleet-footed players such as Catalino and senior Cassie O’Brien furnishing a lot of speed up front for Gwynedd, the Monarchs attacked right from the start and actually earned a penalty stroke near the end of the first minute of the match. Wary of Black’s prowess in the cage, Catalino tried to place a shot just inside the left post and the ball ended up striking the upright and deflecting wide.

The junior wouldn’t be scoreless for long, as with 5:29 elapsed she dribbled through the middle of the circle down toward the right post and launched a successful shot.

The Magic went up the field and into the GMA circle, but couldn’t find the cage. With 21 minutes left they weren’t able to get off a solid shot on a penalty corner insertion by junior Adrienne Pero. The teams went back and forth in the middle of the period, with the Monarchs’ O’Brien sending a reverse stick shot just wide to the right from out past the post, while at the other end an attempt by MSJ junior Katie Fitzpatrick was thwarted at the goal line by a GMA back.

The Magic called time-out with 13:50 showing, and for the rest of the half and the rest of the game, they did a better job of coping with Gwynedd’s speed.

“I think we handled it better after that first stretch,” Post remarked. “At the beginning I think we were a little overaggressive and we weren’t holding our shape as a team. That made it tough for us to recover back on those breaks.”

As the clock dipped under five minutes, Gwynedd earned a corner and got off a couple shots in succession, but Black’s reflexes in goal were up to the task.

Asked about her approach to facing several shots in rapid succession, the three-year starter said “It’s just kind of instinct for me. We practice having people shoot at me from different angles one after the other, but in a game it’s different. In games I just have the feeling that I need to stop everything; any kind of ball that comes at me, I’m going to try to save it.”

With 2:35 on the clock, Mount St. Joe became the first team to score off of a corner, and the goal by Stefanowicz off of Pascali’s pass had the contest tied 1-1 for the halftime break.

Early in the second round the Magic frequently took the ball up the field and into the Gwynedd circle, but they just couldn’t seem to take that final step and put together a really serious scoring threat. Gwynedd’s forwards remained troublesome, and although Mount St. Joe had better containment on the Monarchs’ offensive transition, the hosts still were able to move the ball into the circle and draw fouls for corners.

At the far end, an MSJ corner with a dozen minutes left came to naught, and with under seven minutes remaining freshman starter Margot Biamon sent a shot from the right side outside of the near post.

After a Mount time-out with four-and-a-half minutes to go, it was Gwynedd that seized the initiative when play resumed. Just over a minute later, senior Morgan Meehan (who has committed to Quinnipiac University for lacrosse) inserted the ball on a corner play. It travelled to the top of the circle to Persichetti, who stopped the ball a little left of center and drove it down into the MSJ cage.

The Magic mounted their final rush in the last minute of the game, but couldn’t penetrate far enough for a viable shot.

UPDATE: In two more AACA contests later last week, Mount St. Joseph lost, 1-0, to defending champ Villa Maria on Thursday, then got back in the win column by beating Nazareth, 7-0, on Saturday morning.

Against Villa, the Magic’s scoring struggles from the Gwynedd game continued, as the Mounties suffered a shutout despite outshooting the Hurricanes 10-5 and earning nine penalty corners to Villa’s three.

“I think we hit the goalie on almost all of our 10 shots,” Coach Post lamented. “We move the ball well and we create scoring opportunities, but we wait too long to get our shots off.”

At least the Magic were able to take care of business on Saturday against one of the weaker Academies teams, Nazareth. They romped to a 5-0 halftime lead thanks to two goals apiece by Stefanowicz and Biamon, and one by junior Katie Maransky. In the second period, Stefanowicz completed a hat trick with an assist from Maransky, and sophomore Virginia Poliwoda also scored.

The Mount ended the week at 4-2 overall, with a 2-2 record within the AACA.