by Tom Utescher
In a Girls’ Catholic Academies League semifinal match at Mount St. Joseph Academy on Oct. 28, the host Bears of Norwood-Fontbonne Academy saw each of their first two goals answered by visiting Academy of Notre Dame. In the final minute of the game, eighth grader Lucia Smigiel scored the game-winning third goal for NFA, and the Bears were on their way to this week’s championship game.
The finals will take place at Villa Maria Academy, which won the other league semifinal in double overtime against the Holy Child School at Rosemont.
Norwood came into the season with an experienced group of eighth graders, many of whom had been starters as seventh graders in 2018. NFA and Villa Maria Academy emerged as the top teams, battling to a tie in their head-to-head meeting. For the playoff seeding, none of the statistical tiebreakers could break the deadlock between the teams, and Villa eventually won a coin toss to secure the number one seed.
As last week’s semifinal contest got underway, Norwood pushed up the field to earn the first three penalty corners of the afternoon, with Smigiel making the insertions for the Bears. On one of these plays, eighth grader Penny Gilmore pushed a shot through the middle, and the ball was stopped by the Notre Dame keeper.
Eight minutes into the first (25-minute) half, Norwood got on the board when a shot by Smigiel was blocked and eighth grader Grace Kyle came in at the left post to knock the ball in.
The Irish attacked steadily after this, although Norwood eighth grader Sabrina Borzi slowed down the visitors’ transition game on a number of occasions. Back in goal for the Bears was seventh grader Aiden Arrington.
Just as it was beginning to look as if the Bears would maintain their 1-0 lead until halftime, the Irish scored with about three minutes left. A corner for the visitors did not immediately produce a shot, but they kept the ball around the NFA circle until a forward scored from near the left post with a shot to the opposite side of the Bears’ cage.
Norwood quickly regained the lead as the second half began, going up 2-1 when Gilmore received a pass and took a few dribbles through the circle and shot. This occurred with only two minutes elapsed in the second period, and the Bears kept the lead for more than 10 minutes, getting some strong play in the midfield from eighth grader Lilly Wise and seventh grader Catherine Bernstiel.
Around 10 minutes after the second NFA goal, Notre Dame threatened to tie things up with a good shot from the right side of the circle, but Arrington made a save on the ball.
The visitors kept up the pressure and scored the equalizer two minutes later, with a successful shot capping off a nice passing sequence coming up the field.
When Norwood could not cash in on a pair of penalty corners, it began to look like the game was headed for overtime. The Bears made one final attack into the circle. The ball was knocked around in front of the goal and drifted out toward the left, where Smigiel closed in and put away the winning goal with less than a minute left to play.
Norwood had earned a second meeting with Villa Maria, this time in the league championship game.