by Tom Utescher
Last week, the girls of Penn Charter took their 2019 soccer season as far as it could go, appearing in the finals of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament on Wednesday evening at Immaculata University.
Finishing on a loose ball for the third-seeded Quakers during the first half, sophomore Kaila Rahn accounted for the only goal in the game. With its 1-0 victory over fourth-seeded Westtown School, PC won the PAIS title for the first time since 2014.
Both teams had beaten higher seeds in the tournament’s semifinal round the previous Thursday. Charter knocked out number two Episcopal Academy, the defending PAIS champion, by a score of 3-0, while Westtown took down top-seeded Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 2-1.
PC was the 2018 Inter-Ac League champion, but after SCH captured the league laurels for the first time this fall, the Quakers set their sights on another title.
Veteran PC head coach Darci Spencer remarked, “Our league is so competitive that it’s nice to have another opportunity to play for a championship. We played well throughout the season, but we really played our best at the end and peaked for this tournament. We settled on the best formation for us after trying different things, and individually everybody raised their level.”
In the championship match last Wednesday, the coulda-shoulda’s cut both ways. PC’s stretches of dominance in the first half might have produced two or three more goals during the period, while in the second half, Westtown fans saw their squad come tantalizingly close to tying the contest a number of times.
The two teams had met in the regular season during the first week of September.
“We won 4-1,” Spencer recalled, “but it was one of those games where it felt a lot closer than that. It was an absolute battle.”
Westtown would go on to run through the Friends Schools League with a 9-0 record.
“They obviously had made some changes during the season, like we did,” Spencer said. “Clearly, they’ve been playing well; they knocked off Springside.”
The game began with a few attacking gestures by both sides, then PC began to control the play more and more. There were stretches of possession on offense, and the Quaker midfielders broke up plenty of attempts by the Westtown Moose to take the play into their attacking third. Occasionally, Westtown would launch a serve toward the box and chase after it, reminding PC that although it controlled much of the action, there were still a pair of zeroes on the scoreboard, and one successful Westtown counter would change the complexion of the game.
The Moose kept surviving Charter attacks led by seniors Maggie Boyes and Sara Shippon, juniors Janae Stewart and Kait Haughey and sophomores Kayla Bradby and Lauren Anderson.
The players on the field heard encouraging calls of “It’s coming, it’s coming!” from the sideline, but “it” seemed to be taking quite a while.
Play was halted with 11:45 left in the half when Westtown’s Sophia Linder dropped to the turf with an injury and had to be helped off the field.
PC resumed the attack as the clock cut under the 10-minute mark. From the middle of the box, Haughey took a shot that was absorbed by a swarm of bodies in front of the goal. The loose ball caromed around in this pack of players, and Rahn eventually got a foot on it and scored with a little over nine-and-a-half minutes remaining until the intermission.
Normally a defensively-oriented midfielder, Rahn doesn’t tend to appear on the radar of opposing defenses, unlike players such as Shipon and Stewart.
As Spencer explained, however, “We have a lot of people who can score. Our mids are dangerous and even our backs attack. Kaila has been winning balls for us in the midfield all season long.”
One weapon PC has just gotten back in its arsenal was junior Kait Haughey, who first began to start for the varsity team back in eighth grade. Near the end of the 2018 season, she suffered an ACL tear and has only recently been working her way back into the PC lineup.
“Having Kait Haughey come back to play the whole game for us was huge,” Spencer stated. “She’s so good all over the field; she’s a game-changer.”
After scoring what would be the game’s lone goal, the Quakers kept the Moose from answering as the first half drained away. When Westtown took the field in the second period, it was as a very determined aggressor.
PC’s Spencer related that she had told her players at halftime, “We have to go back out with the mentality that it’s still 0-0. We knew they were going to come at us with some extra attackers and probably take some risks to try and get the tying goal. We needed to weather that storm and not get away from the type of game we wanted to play.”
For most of the first 10 minutes, the Moose attacked vigorously. About six minutes in, they sent a very dangerous cross from right to left, but the forward on the weak side was not quite able to run onto the ball and get off a shot.
Eventually, Stewart and Shipon made a charge up the field together. The sequence ended when Stewart collided with the advancing Westtown keeper, but it was a sign that the Quakers were ready to respond to their opponents’ initial onslaught.
With 14 minutes elapsed, Westtown’s Bridget Fitzpatrick hit a hard shot wide to the left of the Quakers’ cage, and play ranged back and forth as the clock crossed the 20-minute mark. Moving in from the right wing, PC sophomore Lauren Anderson knocked a shot a little over the Westtown crossbar. It appeared to the officials that Moose goalie Catherine Levengood had tipped the ball, and on the resulting PC corner kick, the Westtown keeper punched the ball out of the box.
The Quakers’ aim continued to be a bit high, as senior Toni Linus fired a long free kick over the Moose’s pen. As the clock sliced into the final 10 minutes, each team missed on a threatening header; PC’s attempt went wide right off the head of Anderson following a cross from Bradby.
Under four minutes remained when Westtown picked up its second yellow card of the half. After a free kick followed by a corner kick yielded no fruit for PC, Westtown came back up the field but had the ball taken away by Charter senior India Barnes. The Quakers’ Stewart was served with a yellow card with 90 seconds left, but soon she was back on the field with her teammates celebrating a 1-0 victory.