By: James Williamson
SPRINGFIELD, PA-- In a year defined by fear and uncertainty, the field hockey team of Archbishop Carroll are on the doorsteps of greatness. After their 2-0 victory over Southern Lehigh on Tuesday, the Patriots are just one win from securing the PIAA Class 2A Field Hockey State Championship.
“We feel so good and we’re so proud of the players and just really happy for them that they’re making histories, especially in season that was like none other,” said Archbishop Carroll head coach, Christina Elisio. “They really have persevered and just kept working and have never given up. Their determination is like none other.”
It was a brisk afternoon at Cardinal O’Hara High School as Carroll (10-1) and Southern Lehigh (13-2) faced off in the Semifinals. The sun was beginning to set, covering the field in goldish lighting with dark, ominous clouds hanging overhead.
Carroll was dominant in the opening quarter of the game as Lehigh struggled to maintain possession. It did not take long for the Patriots to jump out to a one goal lead. At about the 10:13 minute mark in the first quarter, Carroll’s teamwork came into play. Sophomore Cate McConaghy deflected the ball from a side-line drive by junior Grace O’Neill giving the Patriots a 1-0 lead.
“It was so early in the game and I thought we just came out really strong, so it was awesome to be able to score and take the first goal,” said O’Neill, a Drexel basketball commit. “I think it was a huge confidence booster and we went on with the rest of our game, confidently.”
Seeing the early goal go in was a huge relief for Carroll senior goalie Courtney Keith. She knew her team was good from there.
“It was a weight off my shoulders,” said Keith. “Obviously, the game wasn’t over yet and I had to keep playing, but it was kind of a sigh of relief. We got the first goal, and I knew once we got it, we won’t stop.”
As the game went on, the competition between the two teams began to intensify and the weather followed suit. Much to the surprise of many of the players, a wintry mix of rain, hail, and snow began to fall throughout most of the second quarter. However, it did not take long for players to adjust and neither team seemed to skip a beat.
“At first, I was a little thrown back by it, but as I kept playing, I didn’t really notice it anymore. It just kinda went right by me,” said Carroll senior captain and St. Joseph's Univ. commit Julia Kingsbury.
The two teams would take a 1-0 score into half time and pick up where they left off with a back and forth third quarter. The Spartans had their opportunities to tie the game in the third thanks to six corners, but the Patriot’s defense was unflinching.
“We all try to stress keeping your sticks down,” said Keith. “Obviously with the corners it kept hitting people’s feet, you just have to keep moving your feet and get your feet around and just get it out.”
The Patriots would go onto add an insurance goal early in the fourth quarter. At the 10:33 mark in the fourth, freshman Sienna Golden managed to find Kingsbury on a pass, who then slipped the ball past a few defenders to score the 2-0 goal.
“It was awesome. Me and Sienna, we had great passing throughout the whole game, and it felt good to finally just get it in there,” said Kingsbury.
Carroll’s defense would take care of Southern Lehigh the rest of the way as the Patriots secure the 2-0 shutout victory and a trip to Allentown to compete in the 2A PA state Championship. After the shutout, Keith was thankful for her 12 save performance on the day, and her defense returned the compliment.
“My defense was amazing, “said Keith. “They're always amazing, they’re always supporting me, and they clear the ball. They do what they do.”
“I thought that (Southern Lehigh) had the ball a lot and I think when they got their corners, we just had to hold composure,” said O’Neill. “(Courtney Keith) did awesome. We had so many corners and she did such a great job.”
After the dust had settled and Carroll had finished celebrating their victory, there was one thing on the minds of players and coaches: food.
When asked what was next for her and her team, O’Neill’s smile could be seen from behind her protective mask.
“Right now, we’re going to “Wing Night”,” said a hungry and happy O’Neill.
Elisio was happy her girls came away with the win but felt her squad could have communicated more on the field.
“Today, and yesterday’s practice, it was not a bad practice, I just felt the morale and the energy was a little low and trickled into today where we weren’t talking as much on the field, our passes weren’t connecting as much,” said Elisio.
She felt a little bit of team bonding over food would be the quick fix they need ahead of Saturday’s championship.
“I just told them that they have to get out there and do something with one another as a team. Something fun that’s outside of practice because I think that’s big too,” said Elisio. “Obviously, we’ll practice, but we’ll have a team dinner and just do something that’s going to boost morale a little bit.”
While team bonding seems easy enough, Elisio also acknowledges the difficulties COVID presents her team in terms of finding a safe space where they all can meet. Nonetheless, she felt confident her girls will be prepared.
“It’s kinda hard with this whole Covid thing, like doing too many things, you can’t just go out somewhere to a restaurant and sit twenty people to a table,” said Elisio. “But whether it’s sitting out on a field in a circle and doing yoga, or doing a team building activity, like playing kickball, that’s all about keeping their spirits up.”
The Patriots will be the first Philadelphia Catholic League field hockey team to represent District 12 in the PIAA Class 2A State final this Saturday against Palmyra High School in Allentown.