BY: ANDREW ROBINSON
PHILADELPHIA--The fall of 2020 for PCL girls' soccer felt more like a mad scramble of chaos than a true season.
After a season that challenged players, coaches, administrators and families in more ways than any of them could have expected, this fall has brought a much more normal sense of operation. Where teams saw everything potentially hinge on one result a year ago and finding games was no easy task, that won't be the case in 2021.
Teams have already begun play, some picking up a few quality early outcomes but there's always a different feel to PCL play and with Monday's first slate of games, it will be back in full force.
"We are really looking forward to playing a full schedule this year. We had a good run in the state tournament last year but could have been more prepared with more games under our belt," Archbishop Wood coach Tom DeGeorge said. "The girls really thought we had a chance to win the PCL last year and with no PCL playoffs or finals last year girls are looking forward to fighting for it this year."
The Vikings have a nice core of players back including senior captains Alyssa DeGeorge, Emily Beck and Bella Diodato, plus junior captain Daryn Savage and Ava DeGeorge, Megan Hickey and Shaina Klos.
Of course, Wood's sentiment is one shared around the league, which will have a different look this fall. With Bishop McDevitt and Hallahan sadly closing their doors at the end of last school year, the PCL is down two teams but will be bolstered with Neumann-Goretti planning to field a team.
Veteran coach Joe Joyce, who has experience in the PCL, Friends School League and Suburban One League has been pushing hard along with Saints athletic director Pat Devenney to get a roster together and is hopeful N-G will be able to take the field for a full league slate. Joyce is looking to senior Alura Triollo to be the team's leader on the pitch following the example of her two older sisters.
"After COVID and with no real feeder programs for N-G the challenge this year will be to field a team," Joyce said. "Pat Devenney has been really trying to get the word out. I've been coaching soccer for the past 30 years and would hope my experience can help pull the program along.”
Despite a delayed start to play last fall and only a limited window of opportunity to get games in, several PCL teams were still able to make noise in the postseason. Archbishop Carroll (4A), Archbishop Ryan (3A), Archbishop Wood (2A) and Conwell-Egan (A) all qualified for the PIAA playoffs with the Eagles reaching the Class A semifinals after two thrilling penalty kick wins.
C-E coach Andrzej Adamiec guided his team through a difficult 2020 season but like his fellow PCL counterparts, is quite happy to have had a normal preseason this fall and the chance to play opponents outside of the league.
The Eagles will lean on their defense led by keeper Jessica Gentile and backs Sami Terry, Connie Wojton and Bella Hamann plus midfielders and forwards Madison Stackhouse, Maxi Ellison and Rylee Joyce.
Conwell-Egan ready to take the field vs. Lansdale Catholic in 2021 PCL season opener (photo/LC Athletics)
"Last season was challenging, especially without knowing if we would be able to play or not while the rest of the state was in full regular-season game mode," Adamiec said. "We were able to play six games, which qualified us for the state tournament where we did quite well making the semifinals.
"This year should be as good or hopefully better with three seniors and 11 juniors returning, we strive to go deep in the Catholic League playoffs and state tournament."
Returning to the standard format of league play and a PCL playoff should benefit every team and especially those looking to make a playoff push. Last year, teams had to get their qualifying games played in a very short window of time and one loss was enough to keep a squad out of the postseason.
Crusaders coach Bree Benedict, who guided LC to a PIAA 2A state title in 2019, is just glad the schedule is spread back out and open for non-league opponents. Lansdale Catholic has already picked up a couple quality wins over SOL sides Souderton and North Penn ahead of its PCL opener and fellow Catholic League teams are stepping out of league constraints to prepare for the challenge of PCL play.
LC still has a few players from its state title team on the roster and is looking to Megan Steinbach, Ava Mercier, Nicole Mezzatesta, Casey Sabolsky, and Emily Simpson as leaders this fall.
"The girls are really excited to get back to the traditions that make our program special," Benedict said. "Getting back to a full season is great, our games are spaced out and we are able to prepare for the PCL with some tough non- league games. It also really lets us find a rhythm and utilize multiple players all over the field. The off season has been great for us, we took a break to get our minds refreshed. The girls came back in June with a great attitude and we really found our stride in the preseason. Being able to just really focus on us and what we do has allowed us to get back to why we play and enjoy our time together."
Having an entire off-season to prepare is a huge factor as well. Many players in the PCL also play other sports for their schools and some kind of club or travel sport over the summer, but each soccer team has its own off-season programs that the athletes are dedicated to as well.
Archbishop Ryan coach Scarlett Walsh is seeing the benefits of her team's off-season program coming back in full force, bolstered by the opening of the school's new John Quinn Athletic Facility. The Ragdolls are annual contenders for the PCL title and often make their way to states, two expectations that haven't changed this fall.
Chelsea Ritter, Kerri Gontz, and Gianna Rivera will lead Ryan toward those ambitions.
“The girls and I are excited to be playing against our rivals again. The girls get very excited playing against the PCL teams and having time off has only made the anticipation greater," Walsh, a Ryan graduate, said. "I expect the return to the PCL to be very exciting. I think there will be some surprises in terms of teams having breakout years with their younger players finally being able to experience the competition, while teams who have been eager to play will be hungrier than ever.
"Our captains have come up with five words that explain our team's outlook and attitude leading into the season: Hard Work, Accountability, Trust, Respect, Commitment."
2020 wasn't all bad for PCL teams. Archbishop Carroll went 6-1 against fellow PCL competition, tied for the best mark in the league and compiled an 8-4 overall record while qualifying for the PIAA playoffs for the first time in program history.
Coach Tom Quintois, who enters his fourth season, has to replace a handful of All-PCL performers, but is looking for a strong returning core to keep up the new standard. The Patriots are also stepping up their non-league slate, but know their fortunes truly rest on whether or not they can build on last year's success in PCL competition.
Carroll likewise has a strong nucleus including Olivia Stout, Bella Stout, Regan Duzy, Oliva Hoffman, Amanda Armstrong, Ella Wright, Emma Tolaga, Julia Curran, Molly Friel and Maura Kane and hopefully Kiley Mottice once the senior lacrosse standout finishes her obligations with the US National Girls Lacrosse team next month.
"We look forward to the challenge of playing in the PCL and a very difficult non-league schedule. Our girls are eager to build on last year’s successes. This is a talented and resilient group that has high expectations," Quintois said. “Last year taught all of us how to prepare and think differently. Having a “normal” preseason is going to make the entire experience better for each player and team.”
Losing Bishop McDevitt and Hallahan from the PCL and St Basil's Academy from the AACA league has also shuffled some things around from students from those schools needing to find new homes for this school year. New players come to teams every year, as was the case for St. Hubert's three-sport standout senior Gianna Grassifulli, who played two years at Ryan before transferring to St. Hubert's last year.
Grassifulli, Emma Drum, Alex McGonigle, Mia Tobin, Keara Pizzaro and the rest of their teammates at Hubert's will take on the new look league under coach Jeanette Graziosi-Hibbs as they try to cement a top spot in the PCL table and playoffs.
"As much as we try to simulate the intensity and excitement of a game during training/practice, nothing is quite like the real thing. I think our players are eager to be challenged, battle, and grow from the experience," Graziosi-Hibbs said. "The league will continue to be competitive! The unfortunate closure of some local schools forced players to transfer -- some PCL teams have gained more experience/depth with transfers."
While programs like Archbishop Ryan, Lansdale Catholic and Archbishop Wood have been mainstays in the PCL final four during league playoffs, it's not a guarantee they'll be there this fall. Rivalries are strong throughout the entire league, which makes every game competitive.
Cardinal O'Hara, the 2019 District 12 4A champion, is among the teams looking to get back in the mix after missing out on the postseason last year.
With fewer teams in the league, only the top six finishers in the final standings will qualify for the PCL playoffs, making each game all the more important for coach Dave Cornish and the Lions along with every other team.
O'Hara has important returners in Maddie Ellis and Ana Ciminera on defense, Kellie McCarthy and Lily Marquis as attackers, and all-around contributor Ellie Miller.
"With the loss of Hallahan and McDevitt, adding back in Goretti, along with COVID last year, it almost seems like a brand-new league," Cornish said. "After last year, we are happy to be back on the field. Looking forward to competing against all the PCL teams. With a new look play-off system, we are aiming to make the play-offs as always, with only 6 making it now, that will mean we need a strong start."
Little Flower, which is in the PCL's crowded Class 3A field including Ryan, Bonner-Prendie, O'Hara and St. Hubert's, is returning to play after losing out on last season. Longtime coach Markos Pittaoulis has a young team this fall but sees good things coming for his group and is just happy to be back on the field with them.
The Sentinels do have seniors Maura Kelly, Halley Cantz, Maura Carberry, Gabriella Turner, Shawna Durkin, Alexandra Farkas and Grace Burns to anchor the back while junior Bella Torre aims to control the middle and newcomer freshmen Olivia Bradley, Rylee Sundermeier, Hayden Johnston and Alexa Harr will round out in midfield and at forward.
"Not too much positive in sitting a whole year. Maybe a little more enthusiasm and appreciation for the game," Pittaoulis said. "There are a lot of changes (in the PCL) let’s hope they are going to make things better.
"I expect good things, the team is young, we have a lot of good freshmen coming in - we have a lot of work ahead, but we have a lot of potential."
Tag(s): Home Schools Philadelphia Catholic Girls Soccer Philadelphia Catholic League Arch. Carroll Girls Soccer Arch. Ryan Girls Soccer Arch. Wood Girls Soccer Bishop McDevitt Girls Soccer Bonner & Prendie Girls Soccer Cardinal O'Hara Girls Soccer Conwell-Egan Girls Soccer John W. Hallahan Soccer Lansdale Cath. Girls Soccer Little Flower Soccer Neumann/Goretti Girls Soccer