GA players celebrate a goal during a regular-season contest. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

The last time Germantown Academy defeated Episcopal Academy, many of the athletes on the squad had been teammates of current head coach Jackie Connard. She graduated in 2006, and a Patriot victory over EA the following year would be followed by a decade-long drought.

While Episcopal finished either first or second in the league season after season, GA was trying to build back to the point where it could once again overcome the Churchwomen.

The moment arrived last Thursday afternoon when, following a pair of regular season losses to its Main Line rival, third-seeded Germantown knocked off number two Episcopal, 2-1, in the semifinals of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament.

GA advanced to this week’s championship bout against top seed Academy of Notre Dame, which steamrolled Agnes Irwin in the other PAIS semifinal bout, 8-0.

During the regular season in the Inter-Ac League, the Patriots had swept their home/away series against Agnes Irwin, Penn Charter and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, while losing twice to Episcopal and Notre Dame.

However, GA had been creeping closer to EA. With several players injured in this fall’s first game against the Churchwomen, the Pats fell by a score of 4-1, but in the October 13 rematch Germantown came up just one goal short, at 3-2.

“We were tied with them for most of the second half,” Coach Connard recounted. “We executed well with possession passing and small-game passing, and just focusing on our game.

“I think we just built on that for today’s game,” Connard said following Thursday’s victory. “Probably the most important thing was that the entire team went out there really believing they could win. Everyone worked hard to recover on defense and to get numbers up on offense.”

GA scored first in the immediate aftermath of a penalty corner, with sophomore Maddi Ota assisting on the goal by senior Colleen Carrigan. This came just two-and-a-half minutes into the contest, and a little past the midpoint of the 30-minute half Episcopal junior Maddie Rehak tied it up at 1-1.

The Patriots put in the eventual game-winner six minutes before halftime. A penalty corner insertion went directly out to junior ace Sammy Popper, who drove the ball in. Verbally committed to Princeton University, Popper began playing with the United States Under-19 team when she was still a freshman.

After taking the lead, Germantown faced the task of making it stand up against talented EA for more than 35 minutes. GA’s Stanford-bound senior goalie, Hannah Santos, knew something about turning aside Episcopal shots. She’d piled up 20 saves to keep GA close in the second regular-season clash between the schools, and she registered a dozen stops in Thursday’s third meeting.

“I thought the goalkeeping was phenomenal on both ends,” Connard said. “We were right on the goal line a couple of times and they kept it out, and in addition to Hannah doing a great job for us, we also had a couple of key defensive saves by field players.”

In the end, the Patriots were able to preserve their one-goal lead from late in the first half.

Connard said, “When the clock ticked down to zero, everybody on our sideline sprinted onto the field. They were so excited. It was definitely a big win for our program.”