With their Penn Charter teammates around them, senior tri-captains Kristina Kubach, Steph Soroka, and Leigh Steinberg (right foreground) take possession of the Pa. Independent Schools championship plaque. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

With their Penn Charter teammates around them, senior tri-captains Kristina Kubach, Steph Soroka, and Leigh Steinberg (right foreground) take possession of the Pa. Independent Schools championship plaque. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

After surviving a semifinal scare from traditional rival Germantown Academy last Thursday, the Penn Charter girls took control early in the 2013 Pa. Independent Schools championship match two days later. On the grass field at Philadelphia University’s Ravenhill Campus, the second-seeded Quakers scored three times in the first half en route to a 4-0 victory over top-ranked Agnes Irwin School.

Charter had locked up the Inter-Ac League title exactly one week earlier, and their successful result in the Indy Schools final gave the Quakers an overall record of 22-2-1 for the season.

“Winning the Inter-Ac was a big goal for us and it was great to do that last week on PC-GA Day,” said sophomore Jlon Flippens, who scored twice in the first period on Saturday after senior Steph Soroka put Penn Charter on the board with a penalty kick. “This win today is like the cherry on top of the sundae.”

The team’s core group of five seniors – Soroka, Julia Casasanto, Lauren Dimes, Kristina Kubach, and Leigh Steinberg – all had been either starters or important reserves for Penn Charter since their freshman season. Up until now, though, they had not won a championship.

Steinberg pointed out, “This was such a great way to end it because for so many years they told us we were young, we were still young, we were good, but we weren’t quite good enough. We were second last year in the league and in States, so it was great to win both of them this year.”

An excellent argument could be made that the seeding for the PAIS tourney had been done prematurely. After the process had been completed, PC avenged a 3-2 overtime loss to Irwin by beating the Owls 6-0 in the rematch, and Charter had gone on to win the Inter-Ac title outright. Irwin also lost its second league meeting with Germantown Academy, and the Owls were fortunate that the Indy Schools bracket steered them clear of the Patriots, who were playing very well at the end of the season.

Charter and third-seeded GA each received a bye in the first round of the Indy tournament, then the Quakers won a 4-0 quarterfinal over number 10 Hill School in order to set up a third meeting this season with the Patriots, who advanced past number six Friends Central in overtime, 1-0.

Flippens scored with an assist from sophomore classmate Hannah Fox in the first half of Thursday’s semifinal, but GA had sophomore Emmy Doloway tie the match in the second stanza and the Pats then went ahead 2-1 in overtime with a marker by senior Riley Yankowich.

After Soroka served a ball inside to set up Flippens’ second goal of the game later in OT, the 2-2 tie could not be broken on the field, so penalty kicks were called for. Up first at the penalty mark, PC trailed 0-1 after each team took two shots, but only one more player converted for GA, and Charter won the session as Soroka, Flippens, and sophomore Dom DeMarco each socked the ball away for the Quakers.

Still, PC hadn’t exactly cruised into the finals.

After that close scrape in the semi’s, Soroka related, “We talked a lot, and we watched film, and we realized our mistakes. Our clears weren’t very good, so we corrected that, and the rest of it was mainly just battling and going hard to every ball.”

First-year head coach Darci Borski commented “I told the girls that I felt we deserved to win that game and I was proud of what we did to get it done. Then we focused on taking that last step for the championship.”

Meanwhile, Agnes Irwin had gone through to last Saturday’s final with a pair of 2-0 wins over number nine Germantown Friends and number five Episcopal Academy.

“Agnes Irwin gave us a really strong battle the first time we played them,” pointed out Dimes after Saturday’s title bout. “The second time we beat them, but we knew it wasn’t going to be easy today. Our biggest goal was just playing as hard as we could.”

Steinberg explained, “We wanted to keep up the kind of energy that let us beat them 6-0 in the second [regular-season] game, and we didn’t want to give up the long balls to them, which is what hurt us in the first game.”

Kubach, one of the backs, revealed, “We changed our positioning a little on defense. Instead of pushing up on offense with the other girls, we had our defenders stay back because we knew they were quick up top and we knew what they were going to go. We just wanted to be in position where we couldn’t get beat with a ball over our heads.”

After an initial PC shot off a throw-in from the right was saved near the post by AI keeper Autumn Wedderburn, Charter came in through the left side but lost the ball out over the endline. Five minutes in, the Owls sent a ball across the PC 18, but freshman goalie Mireyah Davis dashed out to kick the ball out of the box for the Quakers.

Flippens had a near miss from a difficult angle at the far end, and on a dangerous open shot near the Quakers’ cage, the Owls’ Kristin Burnetta simply shot too far to the left.

On a sequence that started with a corner kick from the left by Dimes, Irwin’s Wedderburn punched the ball to clear it but it also struck the hand of another Owls player. Soroka lined up for the penalty kick that resulted, striking low on the left to deposit the eventual game winner with 25:04 remaining in the first half.

Before another five minutes had passed, PC added a goal in real-time play. DeMarco sent the ball in from the right on a corner kick, and from around the near post Dimes flicked it farther across the face of the goal. Flippens was waiting, and tucked the ball into the Owls’ nest.

This season, PC’s DeMarco has been used to playing with her younger sister Giovanna, who scored 15 goals this season and quickly evolved into an important playmaker on the right wing. However, the younger DeMarco is still only in eighth grade, and while she was able to play in regular-season games this fall, the PAIS rules prohibited her from participating in the tournament.

There were several times during the last 20 minutes of the half that PC’s lead seemed at risk. With the defense dropped back, Irwin players were able to receive passes in the first 20 yards of the offensive half. The worry was that they might be able to blow by the defense before the PC backs could get their feet moving.

Despite a few scares, Charter’s version of bend-but-don’t-break defense proved successful, but no doubt PC fans were still relieved to see the Quakers mark more closely and effectively in the second period.

PC had actually threatened to score a third goal very soon after its second, but a nice clear by Owls sophomore Hannah Keating prevented a close-range shot by Charter. After that, it looked like the 2-0 score would hold up until halftime, but Flippens fired her team’s third goal just 40 seconds before the intermission began. She and classmate Ayanna Matthews both rushed to the front of the cage as a third 10th-grader, Josie Dutton, made an entry pass from outside. Once again, Flippens was able to put the ball away, notching her second goal of the day, and her 52nd of the season.

“I just attack the ball,” the U.S. Under-15 Team member stated. “I saw those 50/50 balls near the goal, and I had to finish. Both of the passes were right in front of the net, so it was just a question of who wanted it more.”

As Coach Borski noted, “One of the things we wanted to avoid was to dominate the play and not finish our chances, because that can come back to haunt you. Today we executed our game plan really nicely and set the tone early in the game.”

While the younger DeMarco was unable to take part in the postseason tournament, one of the team’s seniors, Casasanto, had been sidelined by injury for the entire season. During her junior year she suffered a severe tibia fibula fracture, and she expects to finally return to action when the club season starts over the winter.

“I was upset that I couldn’t play,” she said, “but I was able to see the game from a different perspective and I was able to set new goals for myself for when I get back out there. It was fun to watch our team really come together as a whole, and see how talented and versatile we are.”

At halftime of Saturday’s game, the Quakers discussed how important the first few minutes of the second period would be.

“We knew they weren’t going to let up,” Kubach said, “so we just wanted to play like the score was still 0-0.”

A quick goal could’ve boosted Irwin’s confidence with a lot of time left to play, but instead PC immediately added to its lead. A mere 50 seconds after play resumed, the 4-0 final tally was on the board, as Dimes converted off of a pass from DeMarco.

To their credit, the Owls attacked vigorously for the next few minutes, earning two corner kicks. One ball veered out over the endline, and Davis batted the other one away from the cage. To preserve her shutout, the rookie keeper (seven saves) made a pair of dramatic diving stops later on, first near the left post, and then on the right side.

Irwin had a few more chances, and PC also had some opportunities to add to its total, but the count remained 4-0. Charter’s other ninth-grade goalie, Mary McGlinchey, got a piece of the action at the end, coming in to relieve Davis with roughly three minutes remaining in the game.

With the Penn Charter campus located just a few blocks down School House Lane, a large Quakers crowd was on hand to storm the field at the final whistle.

“This was a goal of ours all along since pre-season,” said Soroka, “so to do it feels amazing.”

She will sign a Letter of Intent to play at Drexel University in February, at the same time that Dimes inks an agreement with St. Joseph’s. The other seniors are still sorting out their college options.

“They’re very special to me and I’m going to miss them tremendously,” Borski said. “They’re definitely leaving some big shoes to fill.

“We’re fortunate to have a lot of talented young players coming back, though,” she continued. “A goal of mine is to create a top soccer program at Penn Charter. This season was a great success and I hope that will help draw people to the school. I’m excited for the future.”