Penn Charter players celebrate after scoring their first goal, which proved to be the game-winner. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In recent years, only a few athletes on the field hockey teams at Penn Charter and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy have regarded hockey as their primary sport. Since they often have to go up against Inter-Ac League rivals with well-stocked rosters and year-round club hockey players, the Quakers and Blue Devils usually feel that they’re at least starting out on equal footing when they play each other.

Neither squad scored during the first half of last Friday’s match at PC. After sophomore Darcy Felter put up a goal for PC early in the second period, it appeared for some time that the Quakers might ride that slim 1-0 lead the rest of the way. The situation lost its dramatic edge near the end, however, as Charter junior Lilly Avrigian slapped in two goals in the final two minutes to help secure a 3-0 victory.

Junior Zora Johnson made five saves in goal for the shutout (her fourth of the season) in a match that was the league opener for both teams. PC raised its overall record to 6-0, while SCH departed with a 4-2 mark and would head to a game at Hill School the following day.

“It was a game that they were excited to play, and you could see it,” said second-year PC head coach Maiyah Brown. “I think we had a case of the jitters at first, then we refocused and took care of business.”

It was not just the rivalry on the field between the two teams that made this an emotional occasion. The older sister of first-year SCH head coach Emilee Ehret, Margaretha “Gretta” Ehret, is a PC alumna (’05) who was diagnosed with breast cancer over the summer.

A GoFundMe and various field hockey fundraisers have been organized to help pay medical expenses for the elder Ehret, who is a highly successful hockey and lacrosse coach at Merion Mercy Academy. Part of the effort is the sale of pink “Dream Crazy for Gretta” T-shirts, and the PC team was wearing them during warmups on Friday.

“It was really emotional being here,” Emilee Ehret said after the match. “Penn Charter was awesome for wearing Gretta’s shirts, and they played great. This game didn’t turn out the way we wanted, but we’ll be playing at Hill tomorrow wearing our T-shirts for Gretta.”

After Friday’s game began with a back pass by SCH, PC kept the play in the Blue Devils’ end for a while, earning the game’s first penalty corner less than two minutes in. On this and two later corners, however, the Quakers only got off one shot in the circle, and it was blocked by a defender.

SCH senior goalie Shannon McNally (eight saves) walled off the cage in the first half, and for a time, the Quakers lost momentum when they were handed a two-minute penalty and a five-minute penalty a little over one minute apart.

As the clock dipped under 14 minutes in the first half, SCH went on the attack. PC’s Johnson made a kick save on a Blue Devil shot, and then she dove to block the ball when the visitors tried to score off a corner.

Charlotte Stahlecker of Springside Chestnut Hill (right) brings the ball through the midfield while being pursued by a fellow junior, Penn Charter’s Lilly Avrigian. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Later on, Charter senior Jalynn Johnson made a dash into the circle with one defender on her, but then a foul had the ball coming out the other way. A hard shot by Avrigian steered wide to the left of the Springside cage late in the half, and it was still 0-0 at the intermission.

Prior to the actual start of the contest, PC had followed a familiar warmup routine that has remained consistent through the first month of the season.

“We knew that we would be pretty evenly matched with Springside, and that it would be an important game for our place in the Inter-Ac,” related Avrigian, one of three team captains along with senior Avery Meyers and junior Kaylee Dyer. “We weren’t thinking about how quickly we could score, but how we wanted to build the play up the field the right way.”

After more than half-an-hour of scoreless play, PC wiped the zero off the home side of the scoreboard three minutes and 43 seconds into the second half. Felter was assisted on the play by Brooke Baker.

The Quakers had the lead; now they would have to try and hold it through much of the second half.

“I told them before the game that you can’t win if you can’t defend,” Brown said. “I was happy to see them all trying to execute the important small skills we’ve been working on. One of the areas where we’ve improved is dribbling with speed.”

Springside’s efforts to respond quickly to the Charter goal were hampered by a five-minute penalty card.

A PC corner with 17 minutes left to play did not directly generate a shot, but the Quakers maintained possession around the circle. Saving a strong drive from the left, SCH’s McNally kept her team just one point behind.

The Blue Devils took the play to the other end of the field for a spell, but did not penetrate close to the goal very often. One of their more effective efforts was foiled when Meyers cleared the ball out of the circle for PC.

As the home team reversed the flow, the Devils’ McNally had to put up vigorous defense around the left post. With the ball pushed a little farther out on that side of the circle, PC launched a good lift shot, but the SCH keeper raised her stick and tipped the ball up onto the outside of the top net panel.

The Quakers continued to protect their lead by staying on the attack. They acquired their first insurance goal when Avrigian drove the ball in from high on the left with 1:38 on the clock. With 51 seconds to go, the junior scored again to put the 3-0 final on the board.

“Both the shots came after we got free hits from the 25,” Avrigian related, “and I had to take them on the move because the defenders were marking pretty tightly.”

Some of the league’s heavy hitters will be coming up on PC’s schedule, but Brown felt her players would give a good account of themselves.

“We had a lot more girls come out for the team this year,” she pointed out. “There may not be a lot of year-round field hockey players, but there are a lot of athletic girls who give a lot of effort and are very coachable.”