Dependable defender Rory Williamson, a Mount St. Joe sophomore, brings the ball out of the back. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Last Tuesday in the District 1 Class AA field hockey tournament, second-seeded Mount St. Joseph Academy knocked off fellow semifinalist Great Valley High School, 5-0. A season-high four goals by junior Ellie Maransky helped the Magic advance to the championship game on Saturday evening at Methacton High School. There, the Mounties encountered a familiar obstacle, Villa Maria Academy.

Top-seeded for the district playoffs, the Hurricanes had beaten the Mount twice during the regular season and claimed the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies crown. Last Saturday they climbed out of a 1-1 tie early in the Class AA title bout to score three more times before the first half was over. Villa added one more point in the second period to post a 5-1 victory and take the district championship.

The Mount had already secured a spot in the state tournament, and now would enter it as the second seed from District 1. The Magic left Methacton with an overall record of 17-4-1. The only loss besides the ones to Villa Maria had come against Neshaminy High School, and tie was in a contest with Inter-Ac League champ Academy of Notre Dame, which Villa defeated, 4-2.

The Mount had rolled easily through the first two rounds of the District 1 tournament, cruising past 15th-seeded Kennett High School, 5-0, and number 10 Phoenixville, 6-0. As the highest seed in their half of the bracket, the Magie chose to host those two games and the Great Valley semifinal on the artificial turf field at the Proving Grounds in Conshohocken. Having already played some regular season games there, the Mounties felt right as home as they outscored their first three opponents, 16-0.

After a series of games without facing a great deal of pressure in the defensive third, MSJ junior goalie Maeve McCarthy would now have to endure an onslaught from the Villa Hurricanes.

“During practice we work really hard and I try to utilize every shot to prepare myself,” she said. “You have to train for the teams that play at a fast tempo, and that includes thinking quickly. I also discuss things with the defense so that we know what we’re doing strategy-wise.”

In last Tuesday’s semifinal sixth-seeded Great Valley (14-7 overall) made the first offensive thrust, but the Magic quickly reversed the flow and was on the board with less than two minutes elapsed.

This first goal for Maransky, who verbally committed to Georgetown University earlier in the season, was assisted by her junior classmate Julianna Kratz. Just over the previous weekend, Kratz had decided to throw her lot in with Fairfield University. The all-time leading point-scorer and goal-scorer for Fairfield happens to be 2013 Mount St. Joseph graduate Ann Burgoyne.

MSJ senior Grace Wallis, who is headed for the University of Virginia, led an assault for the Mount soon after the first goal was scored, and the resulting shot tracked outside of the left post.

Great Valley earned a corner at the other end and inserted the ball high into the left side of the circle. The Patriots lifted a shot that was both high and wide to the right of the Magic’s goal.

As usual, goalkeeper McCarthy had sophomore Rory Williamson playing right in front of her, helping anchor the defense and also transporting the ball up toward midfield in a number of transition sequences.

“I’m so grateful to have Rory always there where she needs to be,” McCarthy commented. “Even if I have to come out, she’s always behind me in case the ball gets past me.”

Taking the ball down the right wing, Mount junior Julianna Kratz (left) tries to make a centering pass while under pressure. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Midway through the half the Mount posted a second goal, with Wallis penetrating to the right endline and then delivering a solid cross to earn an assist on Maransky’s marker at the far post.

From the same position, Maransky completed a hat trick when she registered the first goal scored in the second half. It came a little over six minutes into the new period, with senior Mary Kate Stefanowicz (Bucknell) earning an assist as the score climbed to 3-0. Less than a minute later, it was a 4-0 affair after Wallis crushed the ball from the right side of the circle and it rocketed into the Patriots’ cage.

This blast probably brought back bad memories for the student keeping the book for Great Valley. She’d been playing in a scrimmage against the Magic at the start of the season when a drive by one of the Mounties (she wasn’t sure who) broke her finger and forced her to retire to the scoring table for the rest of the season.

With 20 minutes to play, McCarthy came to the sideline and her classmate Claire Maguire finished out the game in goal. Each keeper made two saves.

Another Kratz-to-Maransky connection resulted in the last goal of the afternoon with 4:33 remaining. After calling a time-out, Great Valley produced its best offensive effort of the game in the closing minutes, but the Magic preserved their shutout.

Before they took the field at Methacton a little before dusk on Saturday, the Mount and Villa Maria observed the Class AAA championship match that preceded theirs. The victor was Downingtown West High School, the only team that had defeated Villa all season (3-2).

Early in the double-A final the Magic generated some offense, but a drive from outside the circle found no MSJ players inside for a tip, and the ball was allowed to roll into the cage by VMA keeper Danielle Acuna (four saves), a senior headed for American University.

Villa earned the game’s first corner just over five minutes in, and although the Mount blocked the initial shot, the ‘Canes kept the ball in the circle.

When they worked it over to the left side, MSJ’s McCarthy advanced out of the cage. Villa junior Hannah Miller got the ball behind her and senior Erin Zielinski tapped it in with five minutes and 37 seconds elapsed. Zielinski will be going to Bucknell along with the Mount’s Stefanowicz, and Miller has made a commitment to Duke.

Villa continued to attack as the Mount served out a green card, and a high shot by Villa following a corner was ruled dangerous by the officials. A little later, Acuna came out of the goal to halt an advance by MSJ’s Wallis, who’d received a pass up from the midfield by Kratz.

Several times on free hits for the Magic along the right wing, freshman Kennedy Cliggett was able to lift long high passes to speed up the offensive transition, but the Magic couldn’t capitalize on any of these plays.

In goal, McCarthy broke up a Villa corner play, and then used a glove to bat away a high shot above her left shoulder. With 13 minutes left in the half, Mount senior and Norwood Fontbonne Academy grad Jax Nyzio halted a Villa rush into the circle, and the Magic came back up the field with Kratz bringing the ball in from the right side.

She crossed it toward the circle and freshman Meghan McGinley sent it over in front of the goal for her classmate Megan Maransky outside the left post. The younger Maransky scored on a high shot to tie the match with 12:28 remaining in the first half.

Unfortunately for the Magic, Megan Maransky would leave the field with a foot injury, and would not be able to return.

Villa attacked furiously, seeking to regain the lead. One threatening shot went wide, and following a Hurricane corner, MSJ’s McCarthy (12 saves total) made two stops on the ball.

The last eight minutes of the half would doom Mount St. Joseph. Villa again brought the ball to the threshold of the goal and multiple players had a whack at it. McCarthy kept it out at first, and then dove to try and stop the ball near the left post. With 7:59 on the clock, Zielinski scored her second goal of the night off an assist from sophomore Adriana Yacovelli.

The Mounties got the ball back up the field into Villa’s circle, but couldn’t get off a shot. With 2:11 left in the period, the count climbed to 3-1 when VMA junior Adele Iacobucci delivered a pass from the top of the circle for Lindsay Dickinson over on the left, and the UConn-bound senior smashed the ball into the backboard. Like the Mount’s Wallis, Iacobucci wears a number four uniform, and she will head to UVA a year after the MSJ standout.

After the Magic called a time-out, the Hurricanes tacked on a fourth goal just 41.1 seconds before the interlude. Here, Iacobucci pushed the ball low towards the left post, and Miller converted. The final moments saw the Mount’s McGinley speeding along the right flank, but time ran before she penetrated the circle.

Mount St. Joe needed to resume the attack immediately as the second half began. Instead Villa players swarmed the MSJ circle like bees whose hive had been hit with a stick. Only 25 seconds had gone by when the final score of the game, 5-0, went up on the board. Senior Erin Finley put this one in, assisted by Dickinson.

Three minutes later, the Mount earned a corner (Villa would lead 8-3 in this area) but after the insertion the ball leaked out of the top of the circle.

The Magic would have other chances to break up the shutout, but in the end the Hurricanes kept their cage clean. On one final assault by Mount St. Joe in the closing minute, Wallis got the ball to Ellie Maransky for a run up the middle, but when she got into the circle she was steered out wide to the right by a pair of VMA backs.

The Magic will open play in the PIAA state tournament against the fifth seed from Central Pennsylvania’s District III, Manheim Central High School.

If they win that contest, it’s likely they’ll face defending state champion Donegal High.