After the COVID-afflicted soccer season of 2020, the girls of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy just wanted things to get back to normal. Normal, by 2019 standards, meant that the Blue Devils would …
After the COVID-afflicted soccer season of 2020, the girls of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy just wanted things to get back to normal. Normal, by 2019 standards, meant that the Blue Devils would make it through the tough Inter-Ac League schedule without a defeat.
With last Tuesday's 3-0 victory in the league finale at the Academy of Notre Dame, SCH completed its second 12-0 championship season in three years. In the drastically curtailed 2020 campaign, the Blue Devils had played, and beaten, every league rival except Penn Charter. That game was a COVID-case casualty.
As sixth-year head coach Maria Kosmin pointed out, "This group has gone 29-0 in Inter-Ac games over three seasons. A lot of them have been with us three or four years, and others had a huge impact on the JV team. Everybody knows each other, they know the culture, and they know the focus that's expected."
Over the past few seasons, players who are longtime SCH students have been complemented by girls who entered the school as freshmen, and a number who initially enrolled in middle school. For the first time in quite a while, everyone on the 22-player varsity roster this year had already been attending Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
Kosmin said that the fact that there is very good team chemistry helps make such a large group manageable, and she added, "It also lets us do things like go 11 v. 11 in practice."
Lauren Sullivan, a senior tri-captain along with Maya McDermott and Olivia Myers, observed, "Most of us have played together for awhile so we know how to work together, and the new players have blended in and have been easy to work with.
"When we were freshmen," she continued, "we had older players like Mo'ne Davis and Maddie Niebish who instilled this idea of hard work and determination. We've tried to carry that on; it's like a friendship as well as leadership, and you want to keep a balance between the two."
After the recent win at Notre Dame, the team boasted an overall record of 16-0-1; they'd had to come from behind for a 2-2 tie against New Jersey's Pennington School. Junior Ellie Stratz played the whole way in goal in some games, while in many contests she split time with freshman keeper Gracyn Lee-Torchiana. Between them they recorded 11 shut-outs, eight of them in Inter-Ac competition.
"The league is always good," Kosmin commented. "It's well-coached, and playing everybody the second time around is always harder."
In the two contests leading up to last Wednesday's swansong, the Blue Devils ground out one-goal wins over Episcopal Academy (1-0) and Baldwin School (2-1).
Arriving at Notre Dame last week, Olivia Myers said, "We were really excited, especially since that was the field where we won the Inter-Ac the last time. We went in with a lot of energy."
The visitors appeared to score just half-a-minute into the game. Standing on the goal line, Notre Dame keeper Sophia Hall got her hands on a high outside shot by the Blue Devils. The ball glanced up off her fingers and behind her, and with quick reflexes, Hall batted the ball back out of the cage while it was still in the air.
In looked like the ball had been at least a few feet over the goal line, but the officials seemed unaware of what had happened. Despite protests by the visitors, the score remained 0-0.
Although Springside is known for good scoring connections in the box to set up goals on kicks and headers, all three markers last Wednesday came on long outside shots. The first was actually a corner kick by Sullivan, who rolled an ankle just seconds into the match but was able to return. She put the ball in play from the right side, and it sailed over a clump of players in front of the cage and into the far side of the goal.
SCH had the eventual game-winner with 23:13 remaining in the first half. Since they would be attacking into the descending sun during the second period, the Devils would have liked to net an insurance goal before halftime, but despite numerous attacks, that didn't happen.
Both before and after the visitors' opening goal, Notre Dame came up the field for serves into the box, but both times shots by the Irish went wide to the right of the cage.
With a dozen minutes to go in the half, junior Lisa McIntyre brought the ball down the right wing and crossed it, but Sullivan was not quite able to get to it in the box for a shot. A few minutes later, the Irish sent a free kick over the SCH cage.
A shot by the Blue Devils' senior Virginia Perry went straight into the hands of Hall, and near the end of the half an outside free kick taken for SCH by McDermott bounced back off of Notre Dame's player wall.
Although they'd controlled much of the play, the visitors still only led by a single goal, and from now on they'd no longer have the sun at their backs.
"Even though it was only 1-0 at halftime, I was confident that we would get the job done," Myers related. "We'd played other games where it was 0-0 at the half and then we came out and crushed it in the second half."
Kosmin added, "They just need to be patient when the ball's not in the back of the net right away. Before long, we usually get into a groove and then everything's fine."
SCH continued to possess the ball much of the time as the second half progressed, and an insurance goal went up on the board about 14 minutes in. It came from McIntyre, who let loose from out on the left wing and saw the ball travel across into the right side of the AND cage.
It looked like fellow 11th-grader Abby Fitzmaurice was going deposit a third goal for the visitors eight minutes later, but Hall, the Irish keeper, made an impressive save at the top left corner.
Three minutes after that, Fitzmaurice did get into the scoring stats, converting on a long free kick from the left as the ball glanced off of a partially-screened Hall and into the net. Playing without injured outside back Brigid McDonald (also one of the 13 juniors on the team), the Blue Devils were still able to help Stratz preserve her shutout.
Soon, near the end of this chilly afternoon, the Blue Devils were celebrating in their team huddle as the daylight slowly faded.
Later, Kosmin mused, "Sometimes soccer's something you take for granted, being with your friends, being with your team. When you have that taken away from you, like last year, you learn to appreciate it more."
The SCH seniors have been sorting out their college options. McDermott, a U.S. ODP player, already committed to play for Syracuse University as a junior. Perry, who came on strong as a scorer for Springside this season, recently picked Chestnut Hill College. Sullivan is deciding between several Division I programs in the Philadelphia area, and Myers is still mulling over her choices.
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