By: John Knebels
Photos: Kathy Leister
ASTON, PA –They displayed confidence and resilience in the first half. Then they meticulously took control of the game in the second half and overtime.
Now, they’re Catholic League field hockey champions.
In a thrilling league final October 28 at Neumann University, sophomore Mia Scarduzio took a perfect feed from senior Sara Grassi and slammed home the game-winning tally, lifting Cardinal O’Hara to a 3-2, overtime victory.
“It was life changing,” said a visibly ecstatic – and exhausted –Scarduzio. “All I remember is the ball coming and I saw I had the opportunity to whack it right in. I really can’t believe this is happening right now. I feel like I’m in a dream.”
For three of the past four seasons and four of the past six, these Delaware County rivals have met in the final. Carroll won, 3-2, in 2014. O’Hara triumphed, 1-0, in 2016. Carroll blanked the Lions last year, 2-0.
O’Hara, now with three crowns in the past five seasons, entered the championship as a favorite after going undefeated (9-0) during the regular season and then crushing Lansdale Catholic, 8-0, in the semifinals. Two-seed Carroll, however, had shut out every opponent except O’Hara, to whom they lost, 2-0, on September 16.
The Lions were even better, surrendering a mere one goal against Bonner-Prendergast on September 20 while outscoring their foes by 52-1 heading into the final.
So when O’Hara fell behind, 1-0, on a goal by Carroll junior Carleigh Conners with 17:18 left in the first half, the Lions were facing a rare challenge. They answered it 4:45 later when Scarduzio scored off an assist from senior Katie Shallow. Undaunted, Carroll seized a 2-1 edge on Conners’ second goal with 7:51 left. Again, though, O’Hara answered when Grassi took a pass from Scarduzio and tied the game with 3:32 remaining before halftime.
“It just pushes everyone to go harder,” said Grassi, referring to playing from behind on two occasions. “No one on the field got their head down. We all lift each other up the whole time. That’s what we’re best at.”
With the first overtime period winding down, O’Hara freshman Maeve Boston made a stellar play when she outmaneuvered Carroll's defense along the right wing. She tapped the ball ahead to Grassi, who wristed a pass to a streaking Scarduzio.
“Staying aggressive throughout the game was key to our success,” said Boston. “I’m always looking for an opportunity to help out the team, and our coaches always emphasize the importance of keeping our sticks down and ready.
“When I saw the girl send the ball up the field, I knew I had to make a play and stop it. When the pressure came on to me, I made a move and saw Sara wide open on the sideline and knew that was the right pass.
“I immediately saw Mia wide open, and Sara made a beautiful pass right to her. When I saw Mia score, I was beyond ecstatic for our team, and especially Mia. Our whole team had worked so hard this whole season for that moment, and when Mia came through in the clutch and scored, I couldn’t hold in my excitement.”
Boston wasn’t alone.
“I’m at a loss for words,” said Shallow. “You’re so tired and you know you’ve worked so hard all season long. All the running . . . all the practices . . . it paid off.”
Grassi pointed out that exact concept.
“From day one, we’ve been working towards the plaque,” said Grassi. “We’ve been working since August 10 every day. No one ever complains. We just do what we have to do. It’s amazing coming out of it knowing that we finally got it.”
Junior goalie Gianna Travia, one of several Lions who was cheered by her teammates as coach Jenna Spaeder announced O’Hara’s All-Catholics after the game, said she cried after Scarduzio’s goal.
“It’s the scariest thing in the world,” she said, referring to the pressure of being a goaltender in overtime. “I felt a lot of things. Nervous was definitely one of them. It could go either way. I knew from the beginning (that O’Hara would win), but at the same time, I can’t believe it. It’s insane.”
Nope. According to the Catholic League plaque about to be placed in Cardinal O’Hara’s burgeoning trophy case, it’s not insane.
It’s for real.