By: John Knebels
Photos: Donna Eckert
PHILADELPHIA – No matter how good a team is, sometimes the opponent is simply better. There is no harm in that.
So, when saying that Archbishop Ryan didn’t seem like it was in any danger of losing in the Catholic League girls’ soccer championship October 26 at James Ramp Memorial Recreation Center, that was no indictment against the Ragdolls’ opponent, Archbishop Wood.
When the referee’s whistle signaled the end of regulation, Ryan had defeated the Vikings, 1-0, to earn its sixth championship in eight years. Using a suffocating defense and a willingness to maintain aggressiveness on offense despite holding a tenuous lead, the Ragdolls appeared like a team on a mission.
“This is everything we wanted,” said senior Gianna Monaco. “We wanted an undefeated season; we got that. We wanted the PL title; we got that. I’m just so proud of my team.”
Ryan’s domination began in the early fall and never let up.
The Ragdolls blitzed through all of their 10 league games and allowed only seven goals along the way. In the playoffs, they blanked eight-seed John W. Hallahan (3-0), four-seed Little Flower (3-0), and two-seed Archbishop Wood (1-0).
An early goal by senior Sarah Szychulski seemed to deflate the Vikings, as Ryan controlled most of the play for the rest of the half. In the second, the Ragdolls pressured the Vikings in an attempt to double their advantage.
But it was the defense – namely the back line of Szychulski, junior Grace Joyce, senior Cait Geiger, and sophomore Kaitlyn Brace– that flummoxed a Wood team that finished 9-1 in the regular season, beat seven-seed Conwell-Egan (4-3) in the quarters, and defending champion/three-seed Lansdale Catholic (2-0) in the semis via a scoring margin of 44-7. Wood’s only blemish had been a 2-1 loss to Ryan on September 16.
“All this year, our defense has been really strong,” said Szychulski. “We are just really good at communicating. We were trying to be very aggressive and get the ball out as soon as we can.
“We definitely knew it was going to be a tough game. We knew that if we played our hardest, we had it.”
Ryan coach Jonathan Geist, who described the Ryan squad as “special since the beginning,” agreed that defense was the key factor to the Dolls’ triumph.
“The girls in the back have a ton of experience,” said Geist. “They were part of the team last year; pretty much the same set-up. They’re strong, confident on the ball, and very physical. But they can also play a touch pass.”
Ryan junior goalie Emma Joyce, whose excellent save in the second half preserved the victory, was quite relieved when the game was finally over.
“I was kinda getting nervous,” said Joyce. “They were coming down, but in the end, I got it. It’s very high pressured, and it’s a long time for the (second) half to end.
“We just knew we were the better team. We knew that we could pull off the win, and that’s what we did. We all worked hard for this all season, and we made it happen.”
Szychulski summarized it best.
“The best feeling ever,” she said.
(Contact John Knebels at gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)