by Tom Utescher

For last Tuesday’s Inter-Ac soccer square-off at Penn Charter, the girls of host PC came in with a 6-1 league record. The lone blemish was a 2-1 mid-September road loss to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, which brought a 7-0 Inter-Ac mark to School House Lane for last week’s rematch.

As in the first meeting between the teams, the SCH Blue Devils led 1-0 at halftime, this time thanks to sophomore Lauren Sullivan. On a play from scrimmage and on a penalty kick, freshman Mary Trudeau increased the visitors’ lead to 3-0 over the first nine minutes of the second half.

The Quakers came to life in the middle of the period, and in an 11-minute span they put in two goals on restarts, making it 3-2 game with over 10 minutes remaining. Masterful junior Janae Stewart scored both goals, the first off of a corner kick and the second on a superb direct kick.

Both teams had offensive opportunities over the next few minutes, and sophomore Maya McDermott gave SCH an insurance goal with six minutes remaining. Claiming a 4-2 victory, the Blue Devils improved to 13-1 overall, having lost their season opener on an own-goal. Charter came away with a 12-2 record against all opponents.

“When Penn Charter caught fire and made it 3-2, everybody on our team just threw their body out there and worked for that fourth goal,” Springside head coach Maria Kosmin said. “Our regular top scorers didn’t score, which shows the depth of our team. We have five or six girls who can really put the ball away. Different people step up from game to game, and when a team scores on us, we have confidence that we can score more.”

From a defensive standpoint, Kosmin related, “We know Penn Charter has some players who are very dangerous when they get the ball at their feet, and we tried to deny that as much as we could. Janae had two great goals, but overall we were able to limit their corner kicks and free kicks.”

After seeing her team come back from a 3-0 shortfall to make it a one-goal game, PC head coach Darci Borski said, “I was really proud that we kept fighting and played to the end. When they got that fourth goal, it really changed the tempo of the game and we ran out of time.

“Springside’s defenders played well, and so did their keeper,” she continued. “They finished their scoring chances better than we did.”

It was the Quakers who made the earliest assaults in the game, advancing down the right wing several times. Speedy senior Sara Shipon (who will run track at Brown University) slanted in from that side to deliver a promising cross, but the ball was gathered in by Julia Wilbekaitis, the Blue Devils’ junior goalie. Wilbekaitis, who has consistently improved in communicating with and directing her defenders, finished with eight saves and used her height to pluck many PC serves into the box out of the air.

In the other goal, senior Riley McDade turned away shots by SCH freshman Lisa McIntyre and junior JoJo McShane during the first 15 minutes. Senior Maddie Niebish sent a shot over the Charter crossbar from the right side.

“It was a really exciting game, and nerve-wracking at the same time,” the seasoned Springsider said. “We played them on our [artificial] turf the first time, and that’s where we play best. Being on grass here wasn’t to our advantage, but we worked through it as a team.”

For much of the game, Niebish was tenaciously marked by PC senior Kaylee Murphy, who is headed to the University of Scranton.

The visitors chalked up their first goal with 23:18 remaining in the opening half. McShane brought the ball upfield and centered it to Sullivan. The sophomore’s first shot rebounded, she chased down the ball out in front of the right post and placed a high shot under the crossbar on the far side.

Still under pressure, PC’s McDade weathered a few attempts by the Devils’ Niebish, and Sullivan had one shot go wide to the left and another one from the right endline burrow into the outside of the near net panel.

With the first period now in its final 15 minutes, Shipon raced in from the right near the SCH goal, but her shot went just outside the far post and was chased down by the visitors’ own speedster on defense, junior Esther Lamb. Lamb, a Norwood-Fontbonne Academy alum, consistently made key defensive plays throughout the afternoon as she and sophomore Olivia Meyers spearheaded the effort to contain threats from Shipon and Stewart.

Near the end of the period, an SCH corner kick was directed a little too high up in the box, while a nice serve from the right by the Quakers was swatted down by Wilbekaitis.

Entering the second half with a slim lead, the visitors would reinforce it less than four minutes in thanks to Trudeau.

The freshman, already a second-year varsity player, related, “JoJo had the ball and she turned and shot. The ball deflected off one of their players and came to me, and I put it in. It felt great because it made things a little less tense for us.”

A little later, SCH was awarded a penalty kick with 31:01 left to play. Sullivan, who takes most of the PKs for the team, was momentarily off the field, so Trudeau was assigned to the task. She scored low on the right side.

“I take penalty kicks for my club team and that’s where I like to shoot,” she said, adding that “most people haven’t seen me take PKs in school games.”

Now trailing 3-0, PC immediately went on the attack, but it would be some time before the Quakers chased the goose egg off the home side of the scoreboard. They broke the shutout with 21:33 remaining, when sophomore Kayla Bradby’s corner kick from the right sent an airborne ball into the box and was headed in by Stewart.

Off a free kick from the same side, the Quakers launched a serve into the box, but Wilbekaitis hauled down the ball. With the clock now under 18 minutes, Charter continued to attack for a spell, then the Blue Devils made a rush to the other end that did not produce a shot.

With PC back on offense, Stewart was moving laterally with the ball along the 18-yard line from left to right. She was taken down, and although she appeared to actually be in the box from a distance, a free kick from the edge of the 18 was awarded. Stewart bowed the ball just above the SCH defensive wall and into the right side of the cage.

PC had pulled within one point of the visitors with 10:54 remaining. Meanwhile, SCH’s effervescent McShane was on the sideline, being evaluated after taking a knock to the head.

“JoJo brings a lot of excitement to the game, so having her get taken out of the midfield threw us off,” Niebish noted. “It took us a couple of minutes to regroup, then when the score became 3-2, we knew we had to score another goal to secure the win.”

Springside pushed up the pitch and got shots from McDermott and Sullivan, but one deflected off a Quaker defender and the other was foiled by PC’s McDade (seven saves total).

With under seven minutes left, Shipon raced toward the middle of the SCH 18 with the ball bouncing ahead of her. The Devils’ Lamb went with her, though, and as the players entered the box, the lanky junior craned her neck and headed the bouncing ball out over the right endline. The Quakers could not construct an effective play off of the resulting corner kick.

Reversing the flow, Springside’s McIntyre attacked with Niebish along the right wing. When Niebish dribbled into the far right side of the box and shot, McDade blocked the ball but did not hold it. The ball was loose in front of the left side of the cage, and McDermott tucked it in for the Blue Devils with six minutes remaining, making it 4-2.

The Quakers made a number of assaults in the remaining minutes, but now they needed two goals just to pull even. From the left side, Shipon got off a long shot as the horn sounded, and although the ball ended up in the goal, it was too late to alter the 4-2 tally.

Afterward, PC’s Borski suggested, “If we’d played earlier in the game with the urgency and intensity we showed in the last 15 or 20 minutes, maybe the outcome would’ve been better.”

Going into the match, she noted, “We wanted to win a lot of the 50/50 battles in the middle of the field, which would result in being able to play good balls to our outside mids and our forwards. A number of times, we lost those battles in the middle of the field.”

In most of these races for toss-up balls, the Blue Devils were very steady; if they did not cleanly win the ball, they at least got a foot on it to disrupt progress in the other direction.

While the SCH roster shows a lot of youth overall, Niebish and fellow seniors Abbie Rorke, Meghan McNesby, Alysa Akins and Dakota Carter would like to see the team go as far as possible in 2019.

As Niebish explained, “We know what it takes to win in the league, and I think the younger players feed off of our energy. Our team bond has become stronger during the season, and that’s really helped us.”

Kosmin remarked, “You can see how much they care about each other and this team, and about winning our school’s first Inter-Ac championship in girls’ soccer. That’s something you can’t teach, and it makes my job easy.”

UPDATE: On Friday evening, SCH brought portable lights into Maguire Stadium to play the very first night game on the school’s campus. After a celebration for the team’s seniors, the Blue Devils posted a 3-1 win over visiting Germantown Academy that gave them at least a tie for the 2019 Inter-Ac championship.

Earlier on Friday, Episcopal Academy defeated visiting PC, 3-0, pulling into a tie with PC for second place in the league. After this, neither team could finish with an Inter-Ac record better than 9-3, while SCH was already 9-0 with three games remaining.

The Blue Devils took a 3-0 lead over GA in the first half, starting out with a goal by Sullivan off of a corner kick by McShane. Next, McDermott headed in the ball after it took a high bounce in front of the cage, and just before halftime, Niebish scored from the right side of the box. Sophomore Alex Goodridge scored for the Patriots (2-6 Inter-Ac) with about five minutes remaining in the game.

SCH is expected to clinch the Inter-Ac title outright on Tuesday in a road game at the Academy of Notre Dame. The Irish bring a league record of 1-7 into the contest, and they lost to the Blue Devils 6-0 the first time around.

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