(Photos & Video by Kathy Leister and Colleen Claggett for PSD)
By: Jerome Taylor
PHILADELPHIA--On Friday, for the fourth time in five years, Shipley and Germantown Friends will meet in the Friends School League girl's lacrosse championship.
The budding rivalry has had various players come up big in the previous championship matchup. This year will be no different, with both teams taking vastly different paths to get to the championship game.
Germantown Friends, the defending champs (the Tigers beat Shipley 17-12 in 2021), have been led by their senior class all year.
“It's a really fun group… each of them brings something unique, like quirkiness and steadfastness and humor and like grittiness,” head coach Katie Bergstrom Mark said. “They know each other well. They played sports together for like 12 years. One of the moms was their coach for them when they were in third grade. They all have played together for so, so long… it's really a fun and special, special group. I'm hoping for the best for them.”
Seniors Bluma Hammarhead and Dylan Ragas lead the Tigers on the defensive end. The Tigers’ defenders have been essential in setting up GFS’ transition game. And in their semifinal matchup against Abington Friends, they and sophomore goalie Isla Ablin held the Kangaroos scoreless during the first half before picking up a 14-2 victory.
On attack, the Tigers are led by another pair of seniors, Alexa Hanson and Zoe Schaedle. Both had four points in the win. Hanson had two goals and two assists, while Schaedle had three goals and an assist as part of a scoring effort that saw eight players find the back of the net.
“I love coaching a team that is really dynamic and not just depending on one play over and over again,” Mark said. “I love that our team is really free-flowing. They improvise really well. They work off of each other.”
Senior middies Annie McLaughlin and Clare Meyer also lead the charge offensively for the Tigers. Against the Kangaroos, Meyer, who is heading to Dartmouth to play basketball next year, scored her 150th career goal and had six assists in the win. McLaughlin added four points (three goals, one assist).
“I think Annie McLaughlin is one of the smartest players I've coached. Like she really is able to study the game in the game,” Mark said. “If a goalie makes a safe in a certain area and the next time down, she will not shoot in that area… she will make the adjustment immediately.”
“I'm really excited for her because Shipley's a talented team, and you have to make adjustments in-game… You can't just do the same move you've always done, so I'm really excited to see that.”
Shipley’s path to the championship is a bit different. Unlike GFS, Shipley’s youth movement has them in a position to capture their second title in four years after beating Academy of the New Church 11-6 in their semifinal match.
The Gators are coached by Meredith Turner, who is serving as interim coach just for this season, a stark contrast to Mark’s 21 seasons at the helm of GFS.
Shipley’s leading scorer is freshman Lily Neilson, who comes into Friday's matchup with 66 points (51 goals and 15 assists) and her shot envokes the supernatural, according to her coach.
“She is big, she's strong, she's fast. She's got a wicked shot,” Turner said. “When we were playing Germantown academy, it was a stormy day. And at one point, she just had a crazy low pocket riser, and literally, it lightninged. So we were joking that she brought the electricity with that shot.”
But Neilson’s “electric shot” is far from Shipley’s only offensive threat. Junior Sadie Duncan, sophomore Grace Gordon, and freshmen Hailey Murray and Mae Andreoli have all registered 20+ points this season.
And on the defensive end, they’re led by senior Becca Baker, who is heading to Chatham next year and sophomore Allana McBrearty, while freshman Rylee Louden patrols the pipes.
And though the teams' makeups may be different, both coaches preach the same message to their players heading into Friday’s matchup.
“My whole thing this year has been to control what you can control,” Turner said. “You can't control your opponents, you can’t control the weather, you can't control the field, can't control officials. But you can control you… put all your energy into doing things you do best… being a good teammate, and supporting each other. And that should win today.”
With the Tigers already nabbing a 15-13 win on April 29th, Turner sees another high-scoring affair on the horizon, hopefully with her team on the winning side this time and appreciates the budding rivalry between the programs.
With the Tigers winning in 2018, the Gators in 2019, and Tigers again in 2021 (there was no championship in 2020 due to COVID-19), this is the Gators' chance to even the series.
“I said this to the girls ‘I actually appreciate having a good opponent,’” Turner said. “I don't think it's ever good to beat on somebody or lose to somebody consistently.”
Mark thinks composure is critical for the defending champs if they want to repeat.
“I think that the team that keeps their composure and the team that makes the best decisions will win because both teams are really talented,” Mark said. “If we make good decisions, I think we'll win. if we lose our composure, I think it's going to be a really challenging game.”