By Mark Zimmaro (Photos and videos by Mark Zimmaro)
BRYN MAWR - Isabel Waelchli was just waiting for the right moment for her first goal of the season.
The Academy of the New Church sophomore doesn’t get too many scoring chances as a defensive midfielder on the Lions’ field hockey team. But when her team needed an early spark in the Friends School League Championship game on Friday, Waelchli was more than happy to contribute her first varsity goal.
“It was just great,” Waelchli said “This is my first year on varsity so it was just amazing. When I scored, it was just like, wow, we are going to win. Maybe that’s not the best mindset, but that’s what I thought when I saw the ball go in.”
Waelchli was right. Her goal near the midway point of the first quarter opened the scoring and ignited a wildfire of four straight goals as Academy of the New Church defeated top-seeded Shipley, 4-1, to win its ninth Friends School League title and first since 2018.
Shipley had won the last two FSL championships and had just defeated ANC, 4-2, one week prior. All bets were off once the championship game started.
“I think we came out here really hungry looking for the win and we all just really put it all out there,” said freshman Olivia Sweigard. “We all had this positive energy.”
Swiegard made her positive presence felt in the second quarter as she scored twice on fast break goals, both on fantastic passes from sophomore teammate Molly McCabe. On both instances, McCabe carried the ball down the right side and found a streaking Sweigard down the middle.
ANC's Yvonne Prue (left) receives a hug from teammate Molly McCabe as Sadie Hasen jumps for joy after the Lions won the Friends School League championship on Friday. Photo by Mark Zimmaro
On the first goal, Swiegard took one touch and slid a reverse shot back across her body and into the cage. It made it 2-0 with 10:31 left in the second quarter.
On her second tally, Sweigard smashed a one-timer from McCabe in stride for the three-goal advantage 1:52 before halftime.
“That felt really nice,” Sweigard said. “It just really set us up.”
A three-goal lead is nice, but with 30 minutes to go against a potent Shipley team, there was still plenty of time to chew down fingernails. It wasn’t until the Lions got that fourth goal, until nerves were finally eased. The Lions struck with 1:59 left in the third quarter as junior Ellery Johns sent a shot towards the cage that appeared to be tipped by McCabe on its way in.
Either way, it was 4-0 and the hill became much too steep to climb for the Gators.
“I think there was a lot of hesitation on our end,” Shipley coach Eva Winiarski said. “It’s a big day and there was a lot of build up and lead up to it and when that first whistle went, we were on our heels and hesitant. When you hesitate in the first five minutes, that can kill for the rest of the game.”
Shipley went 7-0 in the Friends League regular season, outscoring its opponents, 34-7, and followed up with a dominating 7-1 win over Westtown School in the semifinal. The Gators just ran out of gas in the championship.
“I’m immensely proud,” Winarski said. “We’re not a big team. We’re a very small team and we knew at the beginning of this season that it was going to be tough, especially going into the further parts of our season. But they grind. This is a team that really knows what grit is. The last 20 minutes of this game, we saw that. I think we held the majority of the possession this game and we had nine offensive corners that we couldn’t turn into goals. But yes, I’m immensely proud of them.”
Shipley did finally break through as Sam MacLaughlin cashed in Shipley’s ninth corner of the day as she found a loose ball in a scramble and lifted a high shot into the cage with 3:56 remaining in the game.
It broke the shutout but it did little to derail the Lions’ confidence in closing out the final four minutes.
“With a three goal lead, I felt not panicky,” ANC coach Sarah Waelchli said. “And at four I felt comfortable. I can’t remember, it might have been with five or six minutes left, I said we’re going to win this game. The girls really brought it today. They were just all on at the same time and trusted each other and played at their top level. This was the best game of the season. It was the perfect time to peak.”
For ANC, it was added revenge. Not only did the Lions avenge the regular season loss to Shipley, but they turned the tables on the exact situation from a year ago. Last season ANC defeated Shipley in the regular season and the Gators traveled to Bryn Athyn to defeat the Lions, 2-0, on their home turf in the championship. This season, the Lions followed the Gators’ 2022 blueprint.
“Last year, we beat them and they beat us in the championship game,” Isabel Waelchli said. “So when it happened to us, It was kind of just thinking this is history repeating itself but in reverse.”
Coach Sarah Waelchli is 1-for-1 in championships in her return as head coach of the Lions. Waelchli previously coached at ANC in the early 2000s, but stepped aside around the time of the birth of her daughter Isabel 15 years ago.
She returned a few years later as an assistant but stepped into the head coaching role this year for her daughter’s first season of varsity experience. They got to share quite a moment not only as the clock ticked down to zero, but earlier in the game as Isabel got her first goal - the all important first one of the game.
“It was very exciting,” Sarah said. “When we were practicing (on Thursday), she had a couple of opportunities to score on corner plays and I was like I wonder if Isabel will score tomorrow? The thought popped into my head.”
So what’s it like having mom as a coach?
“Oh geez,” Isabel said with a laugh. “It's funny because there’s a lot of jokes about it. But she’s an amazing coach. She’s never unprofessional about it. It’s amazing to share a championship with her because this is her first year back as head coach. First year and she’s already helped us win a championship.”
Academy of the New Church is already thinking about a run of success as it will return most of its team next year, but the contributions of its two seniors were certainly on display in the title game. Defender Teagan Henderson and goaltender Zarah Synnestvedt held down the fort each time the Gators came crashing.
“It’s super exciting because this is the first time I’ve won a championship in my four years here,” said Synnestvedt. “Senior year, kind of the most important one. It’s been an absolutely incredible season and I’ve loved every minute of it.
The same can be said for Henderson, who didn’t play last year but returned as a steady presence on the Lions’ back line.
“I’m really really happy, really proud, really lucky,” Henderson said. “It’s unreal. I really don’t have any words right now.”
Henderson took a year off for her junior year but remained as a team manager.
“I just wanted a break,” Henderson said. “But I missed it. I was still the manager so I was still part of the team, but I wanted to play senior year. I wanted to go for it and have fun.”
The Lions are sure glad she did.
They had already moved captain Yvonne Prue to the back line from offense and they did the same with freshman Sadie Hasen after the season started. And Henderson’s defensive experience helped solidify a perfect trio in front of an outstanding goalie.
“Yvonne is absolutely incredible,” Synnestvedt said. I tell her constantly that I need her, because I really really do. She does everything. With Sadie, she’s super important on protecting against those breakaways, and the Same with Teagan. They just do these little touches or jabs and they get it and the breakaway stops. Those are really, really important skills for defense players to have and my teammates really execute them well.”
Academy of the New Church coach Sarah Waelchli put her own mark on a tradition of picking a word of the day that exemplifies how the coaches want the team to play. On Friday, she printed up stickers with the word “relentless” on them.
The idea really stuck.
“We had this tradition of having stickers so I started making my own stickers this season,” Waelchli said. “Most of the time it’s been a word and our word today was relentless. Like, you keep going until the last second of the game. It doesn’t matter if you’re up, you’re going to play like you’re not up and give it your all every second of the game. That was today’s word and they played it.”
ANC assistant coach Caitlyn Irwin would appreciate the above softball reference as she coaches the Lions in the spring. But, with the field hockey championship, Academy of the New Church has now tied Shipley for second all time in Friends School League field hockey championships with nine.
Germantown Friends still holds the top spot with 14 titles, although the Tigers have gone 20 years without one. As long as all of the current rostered players have been alive, it’s been a battle of ANC and Shipley, which have won a combined 16 of the last 18 championships.
Academy of the New Church coaches Caitlyn Irwin and Sarah Waelchli pose with medals after winning the Friends School League championship. Photo by Mark Zimmaro
It dates back to 2004, which is the same time Germantown Friends relinquished its dominance of the League.
After Shipley and ANC, there is a bit of a gap as Friends Central, Moorestown Friends and Westtown have three FSL championships apiece. George School’s lone title came in 1994.
On Thursday, Moorestown Friends played its final Friends School League game in defeating Germantown Friends, 1-0, in the Quaker Cup, which is a mini tournament for the four teams that didn’t qualify for the Friends League playoffs.
Savannah Obermeier recorded the lone goal of the game in the third quarter to give the Foxes their first Quaker Cup championship since the tournament started in 2015. Obermeier stayed hot by scoring the Foxes’ lone goal in their state tournament loss to St. Joseph’s Hammonton the following day.
The Foxes depart the Friends League with three FSL championships (1987, 2007, and 2019) and will play next year in the Burlington County Scholastic League in their home state of New Jersey.
Moorestown Friends' Savannah Obermeier, seen here in a regular season game, scored the lone goal to help the Foxes capture the Quaker Cup. Photo by Mark Zimmaro