by Tom Utescher
In their regular-season finale in girls’ lacrosse, the Penn Charter Quakers came of age last Tuesday afternoon. The cold, drizzly weather made it feel like the contest was taking place back in late March, but the PC team, which has freshmen and sophomores composing half the lineup on the field at any given time, definitely played like it was the middle of May.
Longtime Inter-Ac power Episcopal Academy had already clinched the league title when it arrived on School House Lane, but was looking to complete a 12-0 run through the league. The Churchwomen scored the first goal of the afternoon, but that was the only time they led all day, as PC came back to lead 4-2 at halftime and then secured a 6-5 victory.
Sophomore Kaylee Dyer scored the first and last goals for the Quakers, with her second strike breaking a 5-5 tie with 3:57 remaining in the game. The upset allowed PC to finish the Inter-Ac campaign with a 6-6 record. After the first round of league games, PC was in a three-way chase for fourth place with Germantown Academy and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, but the Quakers beat both the Patriots and the Blue Devils the second time around.
Under fourth-year head coach Colleen Magarity, PC has been building up to the point when it could go head-to-head against the top teams in the league in recent years, such as 2018 co-champs EA and Agnes Irwin and the Academy of Notre Dame. Notre Dame stepped up to win both of its games against Irwin this spring, while EA swept home and away series against both the Irish and the Owls.
PC was showing some signs of improvement against these squads, shaving two goals off its margin of defeat from the first Notre Dame game to the second, and succumbing 14-12 in its rematch with Irwin after losing by 10 goals the first time. The Quakers succumbed 11-5 in their first meeting with EA.
“We’d been creeping closer,” Magarity said after Tuesday’s win. “The girls bought into our game plan. Today, I think defensively we felt like we had nothing to lose, so let’s go out there and play our high-pressure defense.
“That was the anchor of our game today,” she went on. “We forced them to take shots we wanted them to take, and we got them to make some passes that ended up in caused turnovers for us.”
The result was that EA was limited to five goals after averaging more than 13 per game in Inter-Ac competition. EA was missing a high-scoring senior for the match at PC; Penn State signee Olivia Dirks had sprained an ankle during a game against SCH a week earlier. Still, the Churchwomen were capable of bringing a lot of firepower to bear.
Junior Devon Whitaker, who would deposit a game-high three goals, got EA off to an early lead, driving in to score just over seven minutes into the action. At the other end, a free-position opportunity resulted in a shot over the cage, but PC kept possession of the ball and earned another free-position with 16:16 left in the half. This time, Dyer cashed in to tie the game at 1-1.
Usually stationed behind the cage, PC senior Emma Wilson helped extend PC possessions throughout the game by chasing down the ball following missed shots by her teammates.
Magarity noted that as the only starting senior on attack, “She’s like our quarterback back there; she does a great job directing the young players.”
The other two senior starters are Emma Maley and Molly Visco, part of a defensive core that includes a rising sophomore star, Ava Coyle. Time and time again, EA attackers would drive in transition or from the set offense and seem sure of getting off a truly threatening shot, but Coyle would dig in and restrict their stick movement one-on-one and force them away.
Behind the field defenders, junior goalie Hayley Hunt would pile up 13 saves in the game. After the Stony Brook University recruit made four solid stops in the first dozen minutes, EA called timeout with 12:52 remaining in the first half and the score still 1-1.
A minute after play resumed, PC junior Vanessa Ewing made a promising drive at the EA cage, but had a shot saved high on the left by EA’s ninth-grade goalie, Gianna Cilluffo.
The 1-1 tie stayed up on the board until the clock went down to 8:12, when Quakers junior Leah Sax scored from a few steps outside the crease on the left, receiving a nice pass from across the arc by Dyer. At the far end, Hunt made an impressive stop on a quick-stick by visiting junior Jayne Morley, but soon after that, Whitaker notched her second goal to knot things up at 2-2.
One of PC’s assets is its team depth, and junior Lizzie McLaughlin came in off the bench to move the Quakers ahead once more with 5:51 to go in the first period. With the clock under three minutes, EA’s Whitaker went for a hat trick but was foiled by Hunt, and a minute later, the Churchwomen had a player sent to the penalty box.
When the Quakers earned a free position on the left side of the arc with no time showing on the clock, the refs put a second back on the board and allowed the play to proceed. Freshman Lane Murray got off her shot in time to give PC a 4-2 halftime lead.
Although neither team dominated in the first period, early in the game, EA’s play often seemed a little more fluid, its transitions a little quicker and its connections smoother. But as the Churchwomen penetrated into the offensive third, the PC defense stopped them many more times than not, and the entire PC squad was inspired by this. As the Quakers’ confidence grew overall, the perception of the level of play between the teams evened out.
“We have the bodies and we have the athletes,” Magarity commented. “It was just getting them to become smart lacrosse players.
“Episcopal was sending the double-team at us real fast,” she illustrated, “and at first, our girls felt like they had to try and get off some kind of quick shot. We told them that they don’t need to try and dodge and shoot right away, and that they can look for the players who come open when the double comes at them. They really began to get that in the second half – be patient, chip away and work for a great scoring opportunity instead of just an okay one.”
EA killed off the remainder of its first-half penalty at the start of the second period, and then posted its third goal with five minutes elapsed, as junior Caroline Burt came from behind the cage on the left to score.
Probing up at the top of the PC offense two minutes later, sophomore Mia Ferraro spotted a chance to drive on her defender. Galloping in toward the left post, she bounced in a shot that got the Quakers’ lead back to two goals (5-3), with 17:49 left to play.
A minute later, it was a one-goal game once more, as EA freshman Alexa Capozzoli passed from a free position high on the right to Whitaker, who scored her third goal at close range.
PC controlled the subsequent draw but turned the ball over on a pass, and EA called timeout with 14:46 remaining. The ball was soon back in the Quakers’ sticks, though, and during a few minutes of offensive possession, there were near-misses by Sax and Dyer.
When play flowed back down to the other end, PC’s Hunt made two difficult stops, one of which was on a shovel shot by Burt that couldn’t have been easy to track. The clock had gone under 10 minutes, and with about 8:30 left, PC made an errant pass and the Churchwomen went on a quest for the tying goal. They got it with 7:42 on the ticker, as Morley drove from the left and slammed down a hard bounce shot that sent the ball right up under the crossbar.
Under six minutes remained when Morley missed low on the left trying for a go-ahead goal, and after a scramble for the ball, Hunt retrieved it and cleared it upfield.
From behind the EA goal, Wilson passed the ball out front to freshman Darcy Felter on the left, but her shot aimed inside the near post was saved by Cilluffo of the Churchwomen. Once more, though, PC retained possession. Handling the ball on the left side of the arc, Dyer swung into the middle and charged the goal, shooting high into the near corner. With 3:57 left, the 6-5 final score was in the books.
EA won the draw but turned the ball over, and the Quakers moved up on offense and spread out. Felter narrowly missed a shot and Wilson vacuumed up the rebound, keeping PC in control with just over two-and-a-half minutes remaining.
There was another near-miss by PC, and this time, the Churchwomen came up with the ball. Their transition was broken up by the Quakers, though, and Ewing got a hold of the ball for the home team with 90 seconds to go.
With 50.8 seconds, PC called timeout to plan its endgame.
Magarity told her players, “Just run – you guys are fast and athletic and there’s not one person I wouldn’t trust with the ball in their stick.”
Reflecting on that last part, the coach mused, “That’s pretty awesome in a high school team. Anyway, they learned to take time off with their feet, and not only by passing.”
Having its goalie leave the cage to help chase the ball, EA was able to check it away from PC. The ball was batted around on the ground by both teams, then the Churchwomen got possession and started up the field with under 20 seconds left. Once again, PC was able to force a turnover in transition, and the ball was in Felter’s stick as the final seconds ticked away.
Nobody on hand could remember exactly when PC had last beaten EA, but they wouldn’t forget this victory.