Late in the second half, GA senior Maddie O’Hara (center) attacks along the left endline (dark stripe at bottom), but Episcopal goalie Caroline Kelly (on ground) is able to deflect the ball away from the goal. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In the quarterfinal and semifinal matches leading up to last Tuesday’s Pa. Independent Schools championship game, top-seeded Germantown Academy had given up a total of two goals while number three Episcopal Academy had shut out both of its rivals.

The defensive units for the Patriots and Churchwomen were not able to be as stingy when the teams met at Bryn Mawr College in the finals.

Despite long stretches on offense for GA early in the game, Episcopal led 1-0 at halftime and scored again at the start of the second period. GA would get three straight goals from Princeton-bound senior and U.S. Under-19 Team member Sammy Popper, but its 3-2 lead quickly disappeared as the Churchwomen tied things up at 3-3 with just under eight minutes to go in the second half.

That score stayed on the board through the remainder of regulation play and through 15 minutes of overtime action, so the outcome had to be decided through a shoot-out. Instead of the old stroke-line shots, the teams followed the modern format of a timed one-on-one scrimmage between the goalie from one team and an attacker from the other.

Five players from each team made up the first round of shooters, and GA, going after Episcopal in the order, gained a 1-0 edge when its second player, junior Catherine McFadden, scored against the senior goalie for the Churchwomen, Caroline Kelly.

After that, though, Kelly kept her cage sealed while the third and fifth shooters for Episcopal scored, giving the Churchwomen a 2-1 edge in the shootout, and thus, the 2018 Independent Schools Championship.

GA’s athletes were understandably upset, but given a little time, they would be able to fondly remember a remarkable 2018 season. After finishing fourth in the Inter-Ac League in 2015 and third in each of the last two seasons, the Patriots won the league championship this year for the first time since 2006.

“Right after the game, the girls were devastated,” said fourth-year head coach Jackie Connard. “I asked them to remember how they felt after the finals last year; we lost 10-2 to Notre Dame, which was just an embarrassing defeat. This year we put everything out there right up to the end, and you can’t be ashamed of a game that comes down to a shootout.”

By the time the Patriots had officially seized the 2018 Inter-Ac crown on November 10 (see 11/15 LOCAL), they had already secured a spot in the PAIS championship game.

Friends Schools League champion Academy of the New Church had earned the eighth seed for the Indy Schools tournament by winning a play-in game over Penn Charter, 1-0. ANC lost 8-1 in a quarterfinal match at GA, and in a four-versus-five game in the same round, higher-seeded Hill School ousted Agnes Irwin, 2-1. Germantown Academy topped Hill, 3-1, in a November 8 semifinal to return to the championship game.

In quarterfinal bouts in the other half of the tournament bracket, number two Notre Dame dispatched seventh-seeded Mercersburg, 9-0, while Episcopal defeated number six Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 6-0. EA then advanced to the finals with a 1-0 semifinal victory over the Irish.

In goal, EA’s Kelly made 27 saves in that contest. Germantown Academy’s keeper, junior Olivia McMichael, was also riding a hot streak. In late regular-season games against Episcopal and Notre Dame, she recorded 14 and 17 saves, respectively.

GA’s Sammy Popper starts the PAIS championship game with a lift stroke from the center line. The senior would score all three of the Patriots’ goals. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

In Tuesday’s championship game, the Patriots controlled much of the flow during the first 15 minutes or so, while Episcopal’s assaults at the other end were sporadic and brief. In the regulation periods GA would have a 6-0 advantage in penalty corners, but with their offensive thrusts in the early going, the Patriots couldn’t penetrate Kelly.

It was quickly evident that the EA keeper liked to range far out of the goal cage, as far up as the 25-yard line. Her aggressiveness would also serve her well in the final stages of the championship bout.

Gaining a little momentum after the midpoint of the first period, EA came upfield in transition, and when the teams squabbled in the circle, senior Maddie Rehak guided the ball into the Patriots’ parlor. Rehak, who is just about to sign with Bucknell University, had EA ahead with 11:18 left in the first half.

After this, Episcopal appeared a good deal more confident and assertive. GA had a good chance to tie on a nice reversed-stick shot by Popper from the middle of the circle, but Kelly made the stop to help keep her team ahead until halftime, 1-0.

There was a very light sprinkle of rain around the time of the intermission, but an overnight storm system had mostly cleared out by midday.

Conditions at Bryn Mawr’s Constance Applebee Field remained overcast and a bit chilly, though (Applebee, an Englishwoman who was Bryn Mawr’s director of athletics for many years, played a key role in introducing the sport of field hockey to the United States).

Going into the second half, Germantown Academy needed a quick goal to level the scoreboard, but Episcopal got one instead. Macy Szukics, a freshman who has already made a verbal commitment to Duke University, scored out of a scramble in front of the GA cage to make it 2-0 just 52 seconds into the new period.

Even though there was a lot of time remaining, the Churchwomen had the formidable Kelly in goal to help guard a two-goal lead. On the other hand, the Patriots had Sammy “Can’t Stop Her” Popper.

Usually, the U.S. junior team veteran is happy to distribute the ball to her colleagues, but in dire situations, her team needs her to bear down on the opposition with her special skills.

“She totally took charge,” Connard commented, “as if she said to herself, now I’ve just got to go score a couple of goals.”

Penetrating down alongside the right post, the senior played an impressively deft game of small-ball, maintaining control for five or six seconds despite the intrusion of a number of EA sticks. With Kelly now sprawled on the ground, Popper put away the ball with 21:20 remaining.

Under two minutes later, the Princeton recruit was making a dash up the middle, but her progress was halted outside the circle by EA junior Louisa Baxter.

Germantown was hampered by a penalty with 18:45 on the clock and took a time-out soon after that. The Patriots would net the tying goal with 12:51 remaining in regulation. Coming into the top of the circle, Popper dribbled down low on the left and then shot the ball from about five yards out.

Kelly dove in an attempt to foil the play, but the ball passed under her right arm. Behind her, closest to the post, was GA sophomore Sophie Towne, who lifted her left leg to make sure she didn’t obstruct the path of the shot. GA had gotten out of a predicament and back to even at 2-2.

The Patriots would then take the lead in the game for the first time, with the clock now down to 8:15. Towne slipped the ball into the top of the circle for Popper, who settled it a little right of center and scored with a reverse shot.

Unfortunately for the Patriots and their vociferous supporters from the GA fan bus, Episcopal drew even at 3-all just 22 seconds later on Szukics’ second marker of the day. Despite chances for both teams, the clock ran out with the score still tied.

For the 15-minute, golden-goal, seven-on-seven overtime, GA started out with McFadden, McMichael, Popper, Towne, and juniors Annabel Brewer, Grace Pacitti and Jordan Roche.

Episcopal was clearing the ball after an early GA attack when Popper intercepted it and steamed up the middle. Crossing into the circle, she sent the ball down toward the right post for an approaching Roche, but EA’s Kelly reached out and knocked the ball away with her stick.

At the other end, GA’s McMichael withstood a dangerous shot by a senior for the Churchwomen, Gianna Pantaleo, and the Pats successfully defended an Episcopal corner soon after that. Although the match had started at 2:30 PM, the cloudy skies were already beginning to darken a bit when the team proceeded into the shootout.

For each of the 10 one-on-one’s (five per team in the first round) the keeper was on the goal line and the attacker was positioned at the middle of the 25-yard-line. The clock was set to 10 seconds, and the play was over if that time expired with no goal or no foul. It’s a favorable format for a goalie who likes to charge out of the cage and dive at the ball, like EA’s Kelly.

Starting out, two unsuccessful gambits by EA attackers were sandwiched around one for GA. All through the round, neither goalie had to do a great deal of guesswork as almost every attacker started out by pulling the ball to her right. The Patriots’ second player, McFadden, brought the ball across her body, went around Kelly on the left, and scored.

The third EA shooter, Pantaleo, is signing with Boston University along with Kelly, and she helped her current and future teammate out by scoring on the third sequence for the Churchwomen. Kelly would foil the next three Germantown attempts, unhesitatingly charging the Patriot players and making contact, but drawing no fouls.

The tally in the shootout was still 1-1 after each team’s fourth player had her chance. Episcopal’s fifth shooter, Rehak, pulled the ball well wide to the right to give herself time and space, then shot the ball past McMichael for a 2-0 lead. Kelly stopped the fifth GA shooter initially, then was able to delay until the 10-second limit expired and time ran out on the Patriots.

GA’s Connard remarked, “I told the girls that losing like this at the very end hurts a lot right now, but it shows how far you’ve come.”

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