BY MARK ZIMMARO
BRYN ATHYN, PA--Lily Neilson was able to grip a field hockey stick and trophy just fine.
The Shipley School sophomore missed out on the Gators’ semifinal game on Tuesday because of an injury to her finger. Back on the field on Friday, Neilson felt just fine scoring both goals as Shipley defeated Academy of the New Church to win the Friends School League field hockey championship by a 2-0 margin.
Perhaps a little ice, definitely a lot of smiles.
“I got hit in the finger and it was severely bruised,” Neilson said. “It was really big but I’m good now.”
She’s better than good. She’s a Friends League Champion for the second straight year. Shipley did it the hard way by winning the semifinal and championship game on the road as the No. 3 seed in the tournament.
And they defeated both George School and Academy of the New Church, who beat them in the regular season. It doesn’t get much more satisfying than that.
“We just knew that we could play better,” Shipley senior defender Aisling Smith said. “When we initially played them, we knew that wasn’t Shipley field hockey. We came in hot and we were hyped and excited. We know how good we are and we pulled it off.”
But it wasn’t easy.
The first 13 minutes were pretty even with both sides getting their chances. But with 1:47 left in the first quarter, Neilson raced to the back post and took a perfectly timed crossing pass from junior Samantha MacLaughlin that might have been helped along by senior Leni Dethlefs at the near post. Regardless, it made its way to Neilson who knocked home the opening goal.
“We have this play where you go baseline so it draws the defender and I was completely open,” Neilson said. “It was just a little tap-in and it worked really well.”
At that point the field tilted as Academy of the New Church started producing its best scoring chances. But the Lions came up empty, and a little bit frustrated through the middle quarters.
“I think we dominated the whole game,” Lions senior Aria Genzlinger said. “We kept it at their end but we just couldn’t finish and that’s something we need to work on in the future.”
Part of it had to do with Gators freshman goalie, Emily Graham, who was perfect between the pipes, and a strong bend-don’t-break defensive effort.
“It was pretty scary,” Graham said. “I was really nervous every time they came down (the field) but I just had to push through it.”
Neilson did her part to relieve the pressure by tallying her second goal of the game on a penalty corner two minutes into the fourth quarter. Riley Barusevicus started the play with a pass to Katie Eads at the top of the circle, who slid it across to MacLaughlin, who fired it on net. Neilson dug out the rebound, spun and fired home the insurance goal.
“It was a nice sense of relief,” Neilson said. “Although it wasn’t over, I definitely felt very accomplished that we did something really good.”
Down two, the Lions continued to pound the net for the remaining 13 minutes with no success of getting one past Graham. ANC was disappointed in the result, but not the effort. And that goes for the entire season. The Lions went 7-1 and allowed just three goals in divisional play during the regular season to earn the top seed in the playoffs.
“We’ve been working really hard all season and we’ve come an extremely long way,” Genzlinger said. “Over half our girls are freshmen who never played before and I couldn’t be more proud of how we ended.”
Shipley won its ninth Friends School League field hockey title and second in a row with both coming over the Lions.
Shipley went 6-2 in the regular season and got things in gear at the right time of the season. The Gators are enjoying consecutive titles for the first time since the team won four straight FSL championships from 2008 through 2011. The Gators will go for three in a row next year, but Graham is just smiling, thinking about her first.
“It felt good. I was really excited,” Graham said. “The last couple seconds were scary because they were in the circle, but when we won it was pretty fun.”