Photos/Videos: Zack Beavers & Marc Narducci
By: Marc Narducci
COLLEGEVILLE, PA -- As with any once-in-the-lifetime moment, there were many layers.
There was the dream, the $20 profit, the unsightly cut, and the final lunge that would make an Olympic diver envious.
It was all part of the fabulous finish.
Oh yes, and there was the pass, one that was almost as scintillating as the goal itself.
Academy of Notre Dame - 2023 PAISAA Field Hockey Champions - PSD Photo by Marc Narducci
For Academy of Notre Dame senior Reese Czajkowski nothing was very simple about her game-winner, but then again should anything be easy when the goal of her life was just scored?
Czajkowski has been playing field hockey since kindergarten and nothing could have prepared her for this moment.
As one could surmise, she had the game-winning goal when there were no others in the game.
It was Czajkowski’s goal with 13:25 left in the fourth quarter that stood up as Notre Dame defeated defending champ the Hill School, 1-0 in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) field hockey state championship at Ursinus College on Wednesday.
Scoring the goal would have been enough, but this wasn’t just any ordinary goal.
Let’s start with the pass, courtesy of fellow senior Saylor Milone.
A Michigan commit, Milone made the type of feed that should excite future Wolverine fans. She was in the deep corner and sent a reverse pass to the goal mouth.
“My teammate Maeve Seeger had the ball on the 25 and I decided to cut back to her to receive the ball,” Milone said.
Good first decision.
“And then I received it, took a look over my shoulder and saw that it was open, and I turned to my reverse, which I’m pretty comfortable and centered it across the goal,” said Milone , who knows a little something about goal scoring, having totaled a school record 146 for her career.
Should we mention that right after making the pass, Milone fell on the ground.
The stumble didn’t affect the accuracy of the pass, right to the far post.
At first it appeared as if nobody would get there, but all of a sudden here came Czajkowski who literally made a diving stab at the ball.
We don’t know if she had a perfect landing on the dive, but she was able to get a piece of the ball and tip it into the net.
Let the goal scorer take over.
“We were really working on possession on the left side No. 13 (Milone) and she took a reverse shot at the baseline and I am reading it off the goalie, she was too far out, so I stepped in, dived in and tipped it in,” Czajkowski said.
Academy of Notre Dame senior Saylor Milone #13 (Michigan) - PSD Photo by Zack Beavers
She made it sound so simple. If only that were the case.
Had Czajkowski not made the dive, she would not have gotten to the ball, something she admitted afterwards.
“It was all that grit, we really wanted it and had to put in all that effort,” said Czajkowski, who is a Bucknell commit.
It was the eighth goal of the season for Czajkowski, who also had nine assists this year.
The one negative byproduct of the goal was visible on Czajkowski’s left knee. She had a not-so-nice-looking cut on the knee, courtesy of the artificial turf.
Let’s just say that it smarted pretty badly, but in the moment, Czajkowski wasn’t thinking about the pain too much. After the game, was a different story.
“It doesn’t feel great, but it is worth it,” she said.
This was an ending scenario that nobody could ever dream about.
Except that is exactly what Czajkowski did the night before the championship game.
“I pretty much fell asleep dreaming I would score,” Czajkowski said. “And it turned out to be a dream come true.”
Here’s some free advice. If Czajkowski ever dreams of winning the lottery, she may want to play those numbers the next day.
In this instance, she didn’t win the lottery, but should be $20 richer.
That’s because assistant coach Emily Walsh told the team in the preseason that if anybody connects on a diving goal, she would give the person $20.00
Walsh never had to lift her wallet all season, but now…
Anyway, that goal sequence took approximately 10 seconds.
There was a lot that happened in the other 59 minutes and 50 seconds, but it didn’t involve scoring a goal.
Both teams had air-tight defenses. Defender Sofia Ferri controlled the back line for the Hill School. She often also helped jump start the offense as well.
For Notre Dame, sophomore center back Reese Milone (the younger sister of Saylor), junior outside right back Helen Coogan and sophomore left back Kiera McHugh were an air-tight defensive trio around the two goalies who each played a half, Mia McCloskey and Alex Duff.
It was a continuation of the defensive excellence that Notre Dame showed this entire tournament. In the three PAISAA tournament games, Notre Dame outscored its opponents, 15-0.
Yet it was more than just the defense.
For example, Seeger a senior midfielder and a Boston College commit, was a handful for the Hill School to deal with due to her attacking skills.
So many others on both teams came up with big plays, but the biggest belonged to Notre Dame.
“Our team was outstanding,” said Notre Dame coach Brandi Ritz, whose team finished 21-1. “They have been preparing all season for a moment like this and they went out and acted like they have been there before.”
The Hill School actually has been there before, last year beating Episcopal Academy, 3-2 in the PAISAA state championship game.
“We had a wonderful season once again, we had a challenging schedule and I think we did a great job throughout the year,” said Hill School interim head coach Gabby Gomez, an assistant at the school previous five years. “Notre Dame played a great game and unfortunately it didn’t come out in our favor.”
The Irish celebrate after Reese Czajkowski's goal - PSD Photo by Zack Beavers
It wasn’t from lack of effort, or for that matter, talent.
On this day, it took an extraordinary connection from two extremely talented players to make the type of play that wins championships.
“I’m going to look back on this moment forever,” Czajkowski said. “I am also going to look back on this team forever.”
And even now, beginning to look back can be a little emotional.
“The coaching staff, every single girl here I’ve made such a great connection with, and I am so excited to watch them grow,” Czajkowski said. “I’m going to miss them all so much.”