“HEY, I’M OPEN!” SCH sophomore Emily McNesby asks for the ball as she cuts in front of Penn Charter junior Lexi Hnatkowsky. When the Blue Devils were able to get the ball to McNesby’s feet, she produced a hat trick in her team’s 5-3 victory. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

“HEY, I’M OPEN!” SCH sophomore Emily McNesby asks for the ball as she cuts in front of Penn Charter junior Lexi Hnatkowsky. When the Blue Devils were able to get the ball to McNesby’s feet, she produced a hat trick in her team’s 5-3 victory. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

No coach or athletic administrator on the sidelines at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy could remember the last girls soccer match SCH won against Penn Charter, so that told you it had been quite a long time since the Blue Devils had a positive outcome against the Quakers.

In a show of firepower that produced a total of eight goals last Thursday, host SCH topped two-time defending Inter-Ac League champion PC, 5-3. The winners received a hat trick, including the game-winner and an insurance goal, from Emily McNesby, a sophomore who has made a verbal commitment to the University of Maryland.

Penn Charter matched the McNesby marker that opened the scoring in the contest, but the Blue Devils struck again before halftime and then notched the first goal of the second period to go up 3-1. After that the Quakers cut the lead to one goal in two occasions, but the Blue Devils put the game away with McNesby’s third goal, which made it a two-point game with just over two-and-a-half minutes remaining.

SCH, which got single goals from senior star Meghan McCool and sophomore Grace Rorke and recorded 13 saves for freshman Sena Houessou-Adin, raised its record to 8-6-2 overall and 2-5-2 in the league.

Penn Charter, which got its first goal from sophomore Giovanna DeMarco and the next two from her senior sister, Dominique, slipped to 5-5-1 against all opponents and 1-4-1 against Inter-Ac rivals. Charter recorded six saves for its sophomore goalie, Mackenzie Listman.

“Everybody played well today because we knew it would be a big win for us if we could do it,” McNesby remarked. “We’re playing more as a team this year and we’re definitely more confident. When they would come back and score, instead of getting down, we just worked even harder to get the goal back.”

The intensity of the play and the combined point total belied the fact that neither team was at full strength for the game.

A five-year starter, team high scorer, and a University of Maryland recruit, PC’s Jlon Flippens had strained a medial collateral ligament in her knee during the Quakers’ second Inter-Ac game of the season in early October. The Quakers had been edged out in their league opener, 3-2, by current league leader Episcopal Academy, and after Flippens got hurt at Baldwin School and that match ended in a 3-3 tie, not a lot has gone right for the Charter.

With several active players not at 100 percent physically, currently the Quakers do not have the depth of the PC teams that won the Pennsylvania Independent Schools championship in 2013 and 2014.

Springside Chestnut Hill is a program that is just starting to develop some depth. On the same day that PC’s Flippens got hurt, SCH tied Episcopal, 4-4, and that outcome has looked better and better as the Churchwomen have gone on to win all of their other league games so far.

A big factor in the stalemate with EA was junior Destini Curry’s performance in the goalcage, and she was out of town for last Thursday’s PC game. The Blue Devils filled the vacancy in the nets with the young Houessou-Adin, who is a goalie for her club team, but has only played out on the field for the SCH varsity this fall.

After their tie against Episcopal, the Blue Devils dropped some games against opponents who aren’t nearly as good. Earlier last week, they allowed Notre Dame to avenge a defeat dealt by the Devils on the first of the month. The Irish won Tuesday’s rematch, 4-2, despite SCH goals by McCool and freshman Mo’ne Davis.

As they walked into their own Maguire Stadium on a gorgeous autumn afternoon two days later, the Blue Devils knew they could gain a measure of redemption if they could overcome the Quakers. Still, they would have to do it without their regular starting keeper.

“It was tough because Destini’s a big impact player for our team, but Sena really stepped up for us,” McNesby said.

The freshman didn’t learn she would be put in the hot seat until the team began to warm up prior to the game.

“I was shocked when our coach said ‘Sena, you’re playing in goal today,’ “ she related. “I just went out and got ready, but I was pretty nervous.”

Second-year SCH coach John Westfield explained, “I delayed telling her because I didn’t want her to have too much time to think about it. I saw her play goalie in middle school, so I felt she would be alright in there with her awareness in the net and her ability to move.”

PC pushed forward as the game got underway, but didn’t get off any shots. SCH came down the field and a cross by McNesby targeted for McCool arrived to find the University of Virginia recruit well marked by the Quakers. Getting the ball farther out in the open field soon after this, McCool dribbled past three PC defenders on the right wing and launched a shot. It ponged off the upper right corner of the goal frame, and when the ball bounced over toward the far post, McNesby was there to tuck it into the net with five minutes and 23 seconds elapsed.

It wasn’t long before the visitors leveled the score. Settling the ball about 25 yards out a little right of center, the younger DeMarco sister slammed a hard, low drive into the left corner of the Devils’ den. Right after that Charter had a chance to take the lead on a restart, but a corner kick from the left veered out above the crossbar.

As the game moved into the second 10 minutes, SCH’s McCool made two charges and got away a pair of shots, but one went wide and the other was saved near the right post by PC’s Listman. With 24:49 still to go in the first half the Blue Devils acquired the lead for good.

McNesby took a corner from the right and the ball came across the cage around shoulder height. Sealing off the play at the far post, Rorke bowed her head and butted the ball in. On these plays, her height can give SCH an alternative to McCool.

Westfield revealed, “Grace is actually the one who serves the ball for us on dead balls a lot of the time, but when we can sneak her inside, she usually can get to the ball because Meg is drawing a lot of the attention.”

Charter couldn’t find the net on a pair of corner kicks, and two shots by Giovanna DiMarco were saved by Houessou-Adin. A shot from the 18 was tipped outside the post by the freshman, who then caught the ball on a blast by DeMarco from 35 yards out. The SCH keeper also stopped an attempt by Quakers eighth-grader Maggie Boyes, and as the half wound down, Blue Devils junior Taylor Ferry jabbed a pass through to McNesby and the sophomore’s shot tracked wide to the left.

In matches with a one-goal difference at halftime the first team to score in the second period can set the tone, and here it was SCH that struck first. Just under seven minutes in, McCool headed in a corner kick played in from the right by McNesby. PC was almost able to counter right away when the ball was rolling loose near the goal line well away from Houessou-Adin, but sophomore Bridget Hennessey cleared the ball out at the last second for SCH.

A little later, a foul set Penn Charter up with a direct kick from out on the left sideline, almost down at the corner. Dom DeMarco hit a great ball that went in at the upper right corner, and the Quakers were back within one with 26:16 left to play.

“When they tied it [in the first half] and then whenever they would get close I was nervous,” said the Blue Devils’ Houessou-Adin. “I couldn’t make any mistakes when it was like that, but then when we would score I felt much better.”

For the next 15 minutes or so the play ranged up and down the field, with a number of near misses for the offensive unit of each squad, and close calls for the defense. The clock had just dropped under nine minutes when Springside Chestnut Hill again put serious pressure on the Quakers by taking another two-point lead.

The Blue Devils had either McCool or McNesby looking to break through as a striker, and when one went forward the other dropped into the middle to assist with general ballhandling chores and, if needed, to bolster SCH’s own transition defense.

The hosts had McNesby get loose down the wing to run down a pass from McCool and fire into the far side of the goal, making it 4-2. With 3:45 to go Dom DeMarco got the visitors back within one by driving the ball up into the underside of the crossbar. The officials had to confer briefly, then they agreed that the ball had crossed the goal line.

It was only a one-goal game for 65 seconds, as the Devils’ McNesby broke between two Charter defenders up the middle and delivered the coup de grace to the Quakers, completing a personal hat trick and tacking the 5-3 final score on the board.

“One thing I told the team after the game,” Westfield related, “was that I was proud that we didn’t fall apart under pressure. We weathered the storm. When they scored, we responded well by just pushing back up to get another goal.”

He noted that throughout the midfield the team benefitted from the return of Marissa Brown, a sophomore transfer from North Penn High School.

“She just came back after missing four weeks with a back injury,” he said. “She brings a toughness out there, and she takes care of the dirty work in the middle, the little details that make a difference.”

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