by Tom Utescher

The first significant girls’ soccer clash between the area’s Inter-Ac League teams came last Tuesday afternoon at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, where the Blue Devils hosted defending league champion Penn Charter.

The Devils saw senior captain Maddie Niebish score midway through the first half, and with just under 20 minutes remaining in the second period, freshman Lisa McIntyre gave SCH a 2-0 lead. Senior Maggie Boyes made it a one-goal game for the PC Quakers with six minutes on the ticker, but after that, the Blue Devils had the greater share of ball possession and secured a 2-1 victory.

It was the second league contest of 2019 for both teams. PC, which had rolled past the Academy of Notre Dame the previous Friday, 4-0, came to Chestnut Hill on Tuesday with an overall mark of 3-0-1. The tie had occurred in PC’s non-league season opener against Lansdale Catholic.

For SCH, the league campaign began on the same day as PC’s, with the Blue Devils subduing Agnes Irwin, 5-1. The Devils improved to 4-1 with the victory over PC; their lone setback came in their debut on Aug. 30, when an own-goal resulted in a 1-0 loss to head coach Maria Kosmin’s alma mater, Archbishop Ryan.

SCH was unable to convert on any of its own numerous scoring chances against Ryan, and that can be attributed in part to the youth of the team. Of the 24 players on the varsity roster, 10 are freshmen and one of the sophomores is a new student at the school who has relocated from Hawaii.
The Blue Devils are relatively experienced in the defensive half of the pitch. Senior Abbie Rorke is one of the athletes playing in front of junior goalkeeper Julia Wilbekatis, who made six saves last Tuesday.

Esther Lamb is a junior and although the other outside back, Julia Thompson, is a freshman, she is highly skilled and was praised by Kosmin on Tuesday for her marking of PC’s speedy senior forward, Sara Shipon. The center backs are Rorke and Olivia Myers, a sophomore who first started for the varsity as an eighth grader.

After the PC win, Kosmin commented, “Our defense really stepped up today. Just in the first couple of plays I saw our defenders really take charge and set the tempo for the game.”

PC’s junior scoring ace, Janae Stewart, made runs for the Quakers all day long, but too many times she lacked support from her teammates.

The Quakers’ head coach, Darci Spencer, noted, “Janae worked her butt off on both sides of the ball, as usual.”

Overall, though, the veteran PC commander remarked, “I’m disappointed in the way my team performed in the game. Springside played really well and finished their chances; their effort was better today. We had people in some key roles who had trouble.”

In terms of pure hustle, SCH was a pleasure to watch.

“They didn’t play exactly as I had hoped in terms of strategy,” Kosmin said, “but the effort was there from every single player, the starters and the bench.”

It was PC’s Stewart who launched the first truly threatening shot of the day, firing from just past the middle of the 18-yard line and forcing Wilbekaitis to make a diving save over near the right post. About eight minutes in, Niebish let an outside shot go from the right wing, but senior goalie Riley McDade pulled the ball out of the air. She made eight saves on the day, but also ran around grabbing a number of dangerous balls rolling and bouncing around in the box. She had a busy afternoon.

A dozen minutes into the contest, Stewart sent a pass through to catch Shipon on the run, but SCH’s Thompson neatly took the ball off the senior’s feet. The Blue Devils were back on the attack as the middle of the first period approached.

On a restart along the right wing a little past midfield, Meyers sent a strong accurate serve towards the Quakers’ cage. When McDade lost her grip on the ball near the mouth of the goal, it was jabbed in by Niebish, who is always alert for rebounds and loose balls. The hosts were ahead, 1-0, with 21:28 left in the half.

Five minutes later, an SCH foul gave Charter a chance to get even. On a 30-yard PC direct kick from the center of the field, Stewart banged a shot toward the middle of the crossbar, but Wilbekaitis tipped the ball up and over the cage. The Quakers sent the resulting corner kick straight into the hands of the Blue Devils’ keeper.

At the far end, a serve into the box by the home team was punched away by McDade, and a little later, one of the bodies crowded into the PC box blocked a shot by sophomore Maya McDermott, who exemplified SCH’s overall work ethic.

PC’s Shipon attacked in transition, but the play was forced out wide by the Devils’ Meyers. Elsewhere in the SCH defense, there were concerns when Lamb went down with a painful ankle injury with four minutes to go in the half. She would be able to return after the intermission, though.

As the first half wound down, JoJo McShane, a junior captain for SCH, was trying to run down a through ball. It had been kicked a little too hard, and McDade was able to scramble out to retrieve the ball just in time.

The home side had generated a lot of activity, but was holding just a 1-0 lead at the break.

“Offensively, I still expect a lot more from them because they can do better,” Kosmin said. “We got out of our game a bit, getting a little too excited thinking about how it was a big game against Penn Charter. We calmed down in the second half. One of the things we talked about at halftime was getting the ball to the feet of the players we wanted to have it.”

On two SCH attacks in along the right endline, McDade made saves against both McIntyre and her freshman classmate Mary Trudeau during the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Blue Devils thought they’d come up with the insurance goal they were seeking when a ball fired by McShane from the right wing hit the underside of the crossbar on the PC goal, but the ball never entirely crossed the goal line.

After a brief PC foray to the other end of the field, SCH came back down to earn a corner kick from the right side with around 21 minutes remaining. Sophomore Lauren Sullivan sent the ball into the middle, and a header by Trudeau went wide to the left.

Coming up the field in transition a little later on, McIntyre dribbled straight up the middle and past the 18 with a defender on her, but she was able to get off a shot into the lower left corner of the Quakers’ cage. The count was now 2-0 with 19:13 left on the clock.

“Penn Charter has dynamic offensive players, and I wasn’t comfortable when we were up 1-0, or even at 2-0,” Kosmin remarked.

Stewart attacked for PC a few minutes later, but the ball got a little ahead of her and Wilbekaitis came out of the SCH cage to grab it.

The clock stopped briefly with 15 minutes left, as visiting senior Kaylee Murphy came off the field with an injury.

At just under the 10-minute mark, the Quakers’ McDade thwarted an advance along the right endline by senior Megan McNesby of the home side. PC was hit with a yellow card with a little over eight minutes left, but just before the two-minute penalty expired, PC scored. When Boyes made a long serve toward the goalmouth from far out on the right sideline, there was confusion amongst the defenders for the Blue Devils. While they focused on keeping Stewart away from the ball, it bounced into the cage.

With 6:16 remaining, it was a one-goal game once more.

Over the next few minutes, the Blue Devils had the ball for much of the time, and PC’s McDade had to make stops on SCH corner kicks from the left and right sides. PC sent a long drive into the box at the far end, but no runners were in close striking distance, as Wilbekaitis came out to corral the bouncing ball. The Blue Devils were on offense once again as the game entered its final minute.

Asked about what she wanted to see from her players after the SCH lead shrank to a single point, Kosmin said, “I just wanted them to be smart and not panic. You don’t need to force things going for that third goal. When it got down into the last two or three minutes, we wanted to clear the ball and hold it in the corners.”

The coach sent Niebish farther back on the field to further solidify the defense. In the last 30 seconds, the Quakers served inside trying to connect with Stewart, but Niebish headed the ball away.

“We have a lot of things to work on and figure out to get better,” Spencer noted. “We love our league because it’s so competitive, and you can recover from a loss this early in the season because teams are going to knock each other off. We have to get serious, though, because we weren’t ourselves today.”

It was also too early for SCH to celebrate for long.

“It’s a good win,” Kosmin reflected, “but we need to play better in the attacking end to continue to do well in the Inter-Ac.”

PC pushed its Inter-Ac record back into winning territory last Friday, beating 2017 Inter-Ac champ Episcopal Academy, 4-3. The goalscorers were Shipon, sophomores Kayla Bradby and Kaila Rahn and freshman Bella Toomey.

SCH played league and non-league matches on Friday and Saturday. The Devils crafted a pair of 5-1 victories over Inter-Ac rival Germantown Academy and over Archbishop Wood, which is coached by Kosmin’s brother, Tom DeGeorge, a former SCH assistant. In these two games, McIntyre scored a total of four goals, McShane and McDermott had two apiece and Niebish and freshman Bella Brown each added one goal.