By: Mark Zimmaro
PHILADELPHIA - They say scratches build character.
The Cardinal O’Hara High School field hockey team is used to handing out the lopsided losses to their opponents. But this season, the team wanted to face some serious adversity before heading into Philadelphia Catholic League play. The Lions faced an early season five-game gauntlet that included matches against Avon Grove, Downingtown West, Agnes Irwin, Episcopal Academy, and Haverford.
It wasn’t entirely shocking to see the Lions go 0-for-5 against a quintet of field hockey juggernauts. Down but not out, O’Hara took the lumps and the lessons, hoping it would make them stronger for the PCL stretch. A 5-1 victory at Archbishop Wood on Friday was the first step of their 2023 PCL journey that they hope will end with a league title.
‘It felt great,” said senior Sam Connolly, a Rider University commit who scored a goal. “We played against such great teams that made us such a better team, learning from our mistakes and learning from these teams that are just amazing. Today was just a great win.”
It didn’t come easy for the Lions, who faced an upstart Vikings squad, which is very good on its home grass field. And O’Hara’s bus was 45 minutes late to pick them up, which severely cut down warmup time as the Vikings patiently waited for their arrival. But O’Hara was prepared. The Lions practiced on grass in preparation for the game.
“This week we’ve been practicing on grass, so we gave the football team the turf,” Connolly said with a laugh. “They were really happy to get out there on the turf.”
O’Hara took the 1-0 lead on Wood on a goal by Monica Kamper. After the Vikings tied it, O’Hara responded in a big way unleashing four consecutive goals before the halftime horn. Caroline McManus struck twice, while Connolly and Megan Rullo each added a goal. Maybe they just needed a little time to shake off a long, delayed bus ride.
“The energy was high on the bus and everything just came together,” Rullo said. “We had the first goal so we had the intensity first. But when they came back, we realized that we needed to go twice as hard and I feel like we showed that out on the field.
Archbishop Wood made a quick goalie change to let starter Laurel Tonkinson catch her breath and regroup. The senior net minder was perfect after that, turning away several Lions’ chances.
“I love the adrenaline rush,” Tonkinson said of the busy area in front of her cage. “Obviously when it’s all back-to-back it can be overwhelming. But I like to get some shots on me, because that’s what we do at practice and the girls are consistently drilling me with shots. It prepares me for these games.”
Tomkinson and O’Hara’s Laura Angelopulas were happy to see no scoring in the second half and both teams were satisfied with what they set out to accomplish. Last year, O’Hara ran perfect through the regular season without allowing a goal, but lost in the PCL championship to Carroll. This year, they started off 1-0 on their redemption tour. O’Hara’s last PCL championship came in 2019.
“We want the plaque back and we’re working really hard and I think we’re going to do great this year,” O’Hara senior Honor Breen said. “I think that even though we lost some games, it’s making us better and making us want to win more games. We came out today really strong because of all our losses.”
Archbishop Wood fields a young team this year that might be a year away from making serious noise in the PCL standings, but look for some accomplishments to start trickling in this fall. The Vikings opened their PCL season with a 3-0 victory over Little Flower but might have had an even more impressive showing in a 5-1 loss to Cardinal O’Hara in game two.
After yielding the first goal late in the first quarter, Wood tied it up on a goal by sophomore Jacqueline Breller early in the second off a penalty corner.
Breller tapped in a rebound off a shot from Tori Strybuc. The goal was the first scored by a Wood player against perennial powerhouse O’Hara in at least eight years. In fact, Breller’s goal was the first against O’Hara by any PCL team other than Archbishop Carroll or Bonner-Prendie since Archbishop Ryan got one in a 10-1 loss on Oct. 3, 2018.
“It’s not every day you think you’re going to score against O’Hara,” Wood senior defender Bella Szwak said. “We were definitely hyped and happy and excited.”
Wood went 5-3 in the PCL last year but was ousted in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs by Conwell-Egan. The team has set expectations of getting back into the playoffs, but they’ve kept things light and fun during the preseason.
“It’s been really fun,” Szwak said. “In preseason, we had some fun days of dressing up and do a lot of team bonding. It’s been a really fun start to my senior year.”
As PCL play progresses, a small space in the Roundup will be dedicated to players from different teams answering questions that don't exactly deal with field hockey. This week, players from Archbishop Ryan, Archbishop Wood, Cardinal O'Hara and Little Flower answer the pressing question of which superpower they would want if they could have one.
There were some great responses here. What would you choose?
For the first time in years, Archbishop Ryan had enough of a turnout to field a junior varsity team and the Ragdolls believe this will translate into success in future years. If that happens, much of the thanks can be credited to junior Mikayla Steger, who helped recruit players, mainly by using the team’s social media account.
“Before my mother came, there weren’t a lot of people coming out and there was no JV team here,” Steger said. “Her plan was to start an Instagram and I started posting about all the things we do for bonding and everyone started wanting to come out. I told people there’s no commitment and girls ended up coming out for the team and ended up moving the team and the sport.”
Mikayla’s mother, Nickole Dalton-Steger, took the reins last year with an inexperienced team. The Ragdolls, with speedy Mikayla playing the midfield, hope to make some strides this year.
“She definitely takes it harder on me because I’m her child,” Mikayla said with a laugh. “But I think it’s improved me a lot, especially in the offseason because she pushes me to go to college camps. And now I’m definitely seeing improvement this year.”
The Ragdolls were handed no favors on the PCL schedule as an opening day game against Carroll resulted in a 12-0 loss. But better days are surely ahead.
After the first week of the season, Carroll and O’Hara account for two-thirds of an undefeated trio in the PCL standings. The other is Lansdale Catholic, which pulled out a thrilling 5-4 win over Conwell-Egan before posting a 7-0 shutout of St. Hubert.
In the opener against Conwell-Egan, Lansdale Catholic used five different goal scorers to accomplish the task as Kate Fredrickson, Ella Ruffels, Maddie Kennedy, Anna Cusumano and Avery Lesher each knocked one into the cage.
The two teams are forming quite the rivalry with close games over the last four meetings. The Eagles won last year’s matchup, 3-2, while Lansdale Catholic won 4-2 in 2021 and 1-0 in 2019. The teams did not face each other in 2020 due to the pandemic.