by Tom Utescher
The large cadre of seniors on Germantown Friends’ girls soccer team really wanted to break out of the team’s “Groundhog Day” time loop. In each of their first three years of varsity eligibility, the GFS squad reached the Friends Schools League championship game, only to lose to Friends Central by a score of 1-0.
This fall, GFS did better than the Phoenix in the regular season, snagging the top seed for the FSL tournament while FC was the number three team. Still, the Tigers’ lone league loss had been a 1-0 defeat dealt by – you guessed it – Friends Central. In the first half of last Thursday’s 2014 championship game, Germantown experienced further frustration against the Phoenix, going into the break trailing by that all-too-familiar figure, 1-0.
This time, things would end differently for the GFS squad and its fans.
Jeremy Hurdle just became head coach of the Tiger booters this year, but he was well aware of their playoff history with Friends Central.
“The team had seen this situation so many times before,” he said, “but the spirit, the positivity, and the togetherness of this group made the outcome different than it had been in the past.”
The second half was just a few minutes old when one of the Tigers’ 11 seniors, Sophia Linguiti, tied the championship match. Soon after that, her classmate Kelsey Knowles rang up the game winning goal. The 2-1 victory netted Germantown Friends (9-5-2 overall) its first league title in girls soccer.
GFS and Moorestown Friends had each posted a record of 4-1-1 in regular-season league matches. A 2-2 draw in the direct encounter between the Tigers and Foxes back on October 10 rendered the customary head-to-head tiebreaker useless. Ultimately, a coin toss that went Germantown’s way made GFS the top seed and Moorestown the second seed for the league tournament.
That set the Tigers up for a Tuesday semifinal against number four Shipley, a team that the Tigers had beaten 3-0 a month earlier.
“In the playoffs, it’s one-and-done, so we didn’t take anything for granted because of that regular season game,” related Hurdle. “We started quickly, which we’ve been doing recently.”
Initially, Shipley guarded its defensive third effectively, blocking GFS advances. About eight minutes in, the Gators appeared to have the makings of a breakaway, but GFS senior Sophie Trotto ran down the ballhandler and ended the threat. On a corner kick by the Tigers a dozen minutes into the match, the visiting keeper rose up to grab the ball in the air, but couldn’t hold on. Senior Grayson Melby homed in on the loose ball and volleyed it into the net, giving the hosts a lead they never lost. Just four minutes later, fellow upperclassman Greta Meyer furnished the first insurance goal, angling a shot from the right side of the box. The ball struck the far post and caromed across the goal line.
Knowles notched her first goal on a volley from the left side of the box with just under nine minutes left in the opening period. With four minutes to go, Linguiti sent a corner kick in from the right. Inside the near post, junior Lizzie Becker leapt up but didn’t get her noggin solidly on the ball. It dropped down a few yards past her, right in front of the middle of the cage, and an alert Knowles one-timed it into the net.
Shipley appeared somewhat dispirited after that, and not without reason. Although the Tigers added just one more goal after the intermission, they remained firmly in control, even when they drew on their reserves. The final score went up on the board just one minute and 13 seconds after play resumed. One of the Tigers’ subs, senior Lydia Harvey, helped complete a chain of GFS passes up the field, sending the ball toward the front of the Shipley goal for the tap-in by Meyer. Meyer’s sister Celia, a freshman, subbed in on defense and blended seamlessly with the veterans.
Coach Hurdle was pleased with the strides that have been made by his defensive unit.
“Grayson Melby, [sophomore] Hannah Hanson, Sophie Trotto, [senior] Hannah Goldberg and Celia Meyer have all taken their game to a new level the past couple weeks,” he said. “Even more than the five goals [against Shipley], I was happy with the shutout.
“We were leaking a lot of goals early in the season,” he explained, “and we’ve worked hard on our defensive shape and our aggression.”
In goal for the FSL semifinal, senior starter Schuyler Alig was replaced by freshman Teasha McKoy with about 24 minutes remaining in the game. With the defense playing well in front of them, the two keepers needed to make just three saves between them during the encounter. Minutes after their game ended, the Tigers learned the outcome of the other FSL semifinal contest; old foe Friends Central had gotten by Moorestown in overtime, 2-1.
Higher-seeded GFS hosted the championship game two days later, on a field dampened by morning rains. Chilly weather and wisps of fog drifting in among the bordering trees lent an epic feel to the quest for the FSL crown.
About a dozen minutes in, Friends Central was awarded a penalty kick. GFS followers felt the call was unwarranted, and deemed it poetic justice when the Phoenix fumbled away the freebie, shooting the ball up over the crossbar.
“We started well,” Hurdle related, “then when they got the penalty kick – even though they missed it – it seemed to put us on the back foot through the middle of the half.”
On the other hand, the PK sparked the visitors, who had sophomore Hayden Posencheg convert a scoring chance from the field with a little over 15 minutes remaining in the first half.
“That kind of got us going again, and we were the more dominant team the rest of the half,” Hurdle said. “Greta almost scored, and even though we were still down 1-0 at halftime, the girls had a positive feeling about the way they played at the end. I could sense that the fear factor and the nerves weren’t there any more. I didn’t make any changes, and I didn’t even talk that much; the girls spoke among themselves and they knew what they needed to do.”
The Tigers came out of Hurdle’s huddle fired up, pressing the attack immediately and earning a direct kick outside the box on the right side thanks to an FC foul on freshman Portia McKoy, Teasha’s twin sister. Linguiti, who takes most of Germantown’s restart kicks, put the ball in play, pounding it high into the far corner of the goal.
“She has great delivery from set pieces,” Hurdle noted, “whether it’s from crossing situations or shooting situations. She always makes great contact.”
Leveling the score at 1-1 just two minutes into the second period, the Tigers continued their offensive and secured the go-ahead goal just a few minutes later. Linguiti passed the ball through the midfield to Becker, who forwarded it to senior Taryn Milbourne. When she got off a shot, the FC keeper blocked the ball, but couldn’t hold it. Knowles displayed her customary homing instinct for loose balls in front of the net, and closed in for the coup de grace.
The senior forward was an unexpected boon for the GFS franchise this fall.
“She and her sister Riley [a freshman on the team] just came in this year when their family moved down from Vermont,” Hurdle explained. “It was a great gift to receive a transfer like that as a senior. Their mother actually went to GFS and played soccer with the boys before there was a girls’ team here.”
After Knowles’ goal, the Tiger defenders that Hurdle had praised after the Shipley contest held the lead the rest of the way in the championship match, as Alig went the distance in goal.
UPDATE – A day after claiming the FSL title, GFS won its opening round game in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament. Markers from (in order) Milbourne, Harvey, and Portia McKoy powered fifth-seeded GFS to a 3-1 victory over number 12 Baldwin School, a team that had beaten the Tigers early in the season.