GA’s Mackenzie Pluck (left) controls the ball with fellow senior Lucy Lamb of SCH on her hip. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

On its home field last Tuesday, Springside Chestnut Hill was able to avenge an earlier Inter-Ac League loss to Germantown Academy in a hard-fought defensive battle. A header by sophomore Maddie Miebish at the end of the first half gave the host Blue Devils a 1-0 edge over visiting GA, but in the second frame SCH had to withstand a lot of Patriot pressure.

On one sequence late in the game, there were very close GA misses on a shot from the middle of the box and on a follow-up attempt. Each making two saves in goal, Springside Chestnut Hill keepers Sena Houessou-Adin (a junior who started) and Julia Wilbekaitis (a freshman who entered after halftime) kept a clean sheet for a 1-0 outcome.

Back in their second league game in mid-September, the Blue Devils lost at GA, 2-1.

“We gave up those two goals due to mistakes on defense and in the goal,” explained second-year SCH head coach Maria Kosmin. “It was kind of a wake-up call that we have to be organized in the back and ready to go at all times. I think since then our defense has been the most consistent part of the team.”

Emerging from the GA rematch with a 5-2-1 league record the Blue Devils (11-2-1 overall) remained in second place, having played one more Inter-Ac game than the team they tied, Baldwin School (4-2-1). A day after the SCH-GA battle, Penn Charter did both the Devils and the Baldwin Bears a favor by handing previously unbeaten Episcopal Academy its first league loss, 3-0.

The visiting Quakers (5-3 league) received a superb effort in goal from senior Mackenzie Listman as they held off the Churchwomen in the second half after scoring three times in the opening period. The goals were by freshman Janae Stewart, senior Gi DeMarco and sophomore Toni Linus, with freshman Kait Haughey assisting on the first two markers and junior Emma Maley setting up the third strike with her corner kick.

After the previous day’s Inter-Ac bout at SCH, Germantown Academy was 8-8-2 overall, and with a 3-5 record in the league the Patriots were no longer realistically in the running for the 2017 title.

However, as assistant coach Katie Martin pointed out, “Each game we have left is still important for our seeding in the PAISAA (Pa. Independent Schools Athletic Association] tournament, and our GA-PC Day game with Penn Charter is always exciting, no matter what the two of us have done up to that point.”

Neither GA nor SCH was at 100 percent going into last Tuesday’s contest. Blue Devils junior Nayah Moore was out of action entirely, and scoring ace Emily McNesby (a Maryland recruit) was playing with a heavily-wrapped sore quad muscle in one leg. Some other athletes on the team were a little nicked up, but still playing.

GA was actually in worse shape, and would start the match without two of its three senior captains. Defender Rachel Villari was unavailable altogether, but Mackenzie Pluck (committed to Duke for several years) would enter the game in the second half, trying to ignore an afflicted ankle as she helped her team go after a tying goal.

She’d actually come back from another injury just a few weeks earlier.

On the lone scoring play of last Tuesday’s Inter-Ac clash, the ball was thrown in from the right sideline by SCH senior Destiny Rogers and was headed by sophomore Maddie Niebish (right). The ball rose above GA sophomores Eleni Kytzidis (#13) and Lilly Altomare (goalie, left) and dipped into the top left corner of the goal. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

“She’s had a tough time, and we’re happy whenever she’s able to get on the field,” Martin said. “She great on the ball and she’s a leader for our team.”

There were also two other sidelined GA players who had been scoring threats earlier in the season, junior Katie Hackley and sophomore Grace Kaupas.

Assessing the Patriot team that came to call last Tuesday, SCH’s Kosmin commented, “I think they have one of the better midfields that we face all year. Ally Clark [a junior committed to Columbia] controls a lot of the game in the middle.”

GA attacked at the outset on Tuesday, and then on one of the first rushes for SCH McNesby brought the ball up the wing but was prevented from making the turn into the box by Patriot sophomore Maddie Burns.

The 10th-grader, whose older sister Chloe (now at the University of Scranton) played basketball with McNesby at SCH, has advanced rapidly just this season from being a reserve player to becoming an important marking back for the Pats.

“She did a great job defensively today, really smart and tough out there,” Martin said. “She plays basketball and lacrosse, too, so she understands how team sports work and how you need to position yourself.”

Burns was one of two players on the field who are Norwood Fontbonne Academy graduates; the other was SCH freshman defender Esther Lamb.

Confident in the ninth-grader, the Blue Devils’ Kosmin remarked, “Even if she makes a mistake, she’s so quick that she recovers right away.”

In the second five minutes of the contest, the Blue Devils sent a high serve and then a corner kick into the box. On the first play GA sophomore goalie Lilly Altomare rose up to catch the ball, and on the corner Clark cleared the ball out for the Patriots. Roaming the entire field, Clark was soon up at the other end, but she did not get her foot solidly on a shot that was easily saved by Houessou-Adin of the host team.

After the Devils’ McNesby missed the upper right corner of the GA cage, the Pats came back down and had senior Annie Peterson dribble into the box. The ball got just a little too far in front of her and was cleared by Springside Chestnut Hill junior Kylie Quinn.

Sophomore Alysa Akins, who had subbed in for SCH, made a nice cross inside from the right wing for McNesby, who was not quite able to line up anything but a fairly soft shot. There was a similar result when freshman JoJo McShane centered the ball a little later on.

“The game before,” Kosmin related, “Em [McNesby] was on fire and scored four goals, but maybe she pushed it too much since she had a little injury at the time. With GA, you could see she was just a step slow because she was nursing that leg. I’m going to have her sit out the next couple of practices.”

There are other offensive weapons, though, and Niebish, in particular, is becoming more and more of a threat.

“Even if it’s not goals, it’s assists,” Kosmin said. “She’s strong and she’s able to get herself good position around the goal.”

Still, GA defended well, and with 10 minutes left in the first half SCH was unable to generate a shot off of a corner kick. A little later, when senior Grace Rorke served the ball from the right wing toward the left post, the Blue Devils couldn’t connect with the ball on the other side.

Continuing to attack, the home team finally got on the board in the final minute of the half. On a restart from the right sideline deep in the offensive end, the hosts called upon specialist Destiny Rogers, a senior who can throw the ball right into the box in the air.

As the ball was arriving, Niebish charged the right post and went up for a header. The ball rose up along the crossbar, traveled well above the outstretched hands of Altomare, and slipped into the top left corner of the goal. With 52 seconds left in the first half, the only point of the game was on the board.

As things turned out, the SCH defense would have to make that lone goal stand up the rest of the way. In the back the youngster, Esther Lamb, joined veteran defenders such as Lucy Lamb (no relation), fellow senior Grace Rorke and Rorke’s sophomore sister Abbie.

“Grace is our last man back, and she’s dependable,” Kosmin said. “Lucy does so well in winning 50/50 balls. She’s very aggressive and she just breaks up plays.”

As they’ve done in recent weeks, the Blue Devils changed goalies for the second half.

“They’re both playing well,” Kosmin said, “and I think we can benefit from having them take turns on the sideline and learn by watching what the other does on the field, both the good plays and the mistakes.”

GA’s Pluck hadn’t played in the first period, but as the second round got underway she was seen warming up on the sideline. She soon entered the game and before long was making a run through the middle.

Pluck’s shot was deflected high and wide to the left, and on the resulting GA corner kick, the ball was sent into the box and then was cleared away by Blue Devils junior Mo’ne Davis. On an SCH corner near the middle of the half, Grace Rorke kept the ball in play by heading it up in the air inside the 18, but no shot was forthcoming.

At the far end, when Clark made a nice cross from the right flank for the Patriots, no one could get to it in time to make a play.

“We pushed forward a lot in the second half,” Martin said. “We had girls playing hurt, and we were proud of the effort they put out.”

GA kept the pressure on, and saw a low shot from the right by sophomore Elizabeth Van Blarcom (called “EVB” by the other Patriots) saved near the far post by the SCH keeper, who was now the young Wilbekaitis.

As the clock crept down under a dozen minutes remaining, GA sent a pass through the midfield and had a wide-open Pluck run onto the ball. The SCH home crowd relaxed as she was flagged for being offsides, a call GA didn’t think was warranted.

Springside Chestnut Hill served the ball toward the other goal with under seven minutes left, but Altomare caught this lob without difficulty.

GA came back up the field, soon earning a free kick and having Peterson send the ball into the box. SCH then dodged a couple of bullets as Pluck ponged a shot off the crossbar and junior Riley Axenroth’s follow-up strayed outside the right post. The Blue Devils would be able to ride their lone first-half goal to victory.

“Sometimes the ball just doesn’t go in,” GA’s Martin philosophized. “It’s just the way soccer is.”