Episcopal Academy Hoist Championship Plaque After Winning PAISAA Title. (Photo by Kathy Leister)
BY JEREMY GOODE
(Photos by Kathy Leister for PSD)
PHILA.--The Episcopal Academy girls’ soccer team capped off their historic undefeated season in the Inter-Ac conference with the only fitting ending, beating the Westtown Moose to win the PAISAA title on Nov. 15., at La Salle University.
“It’s a program culture, not even a team culture,” Episcopal head coach Andy Fraggos said. “We have something here at Episcopal. We have a lot of kids who are rooting for each other all the time. Everyone has each other’s backs in the classroom… we’re planning on continuing that and keeping that going for years.”
A great quote to help explain the Churchwomen’s state championship game against Westtown. After a scoreless first half, Episcopal started overwhelming Westtown with their offense. Maya Bright had several strong shots on net that were just off the mark. Same with Bridget Dempsey. Regardless, the Churchwomen were picking up the pace, really putting pressure on the Moose defensively.
And their past clutch moments that helped earn them an Inter-Ac championship in only 10 league games would soon reappear.
With 14:08 remaining in the game, Episcopal’s prayers would be answered, as junior Kate Dente took a ricocheted shot off a Westtown defender and buried what would be the PAISAA title game winner, as Episcopal would complete their banner season with a perfect year and a title in the Inter-Ac conference, and now a PAISAA title.
“The ball ricocheted off someone and Bridget screamed at me ‘shoot’,” Dente said. “So that’s kind of what I did. All of us anticipated the ball slowly going into the net, so we were so excited when it happened.”
Interestingly enough, the play was spawned by Episcopal’s junior goalkeeper Lauren Creamer’s save on her end. She punted the ball away and moments later Dente was there in front of the goal with the ball to send it through for the title.
“The adrenaline was there; it came off my punt,” Creamer said. “I got a little chirp from the crowd and that kind of let me send it through.”
The Churchwomen have a deep team and the image of Dente scoring off the bench is a perfect representation of Fraggos’ mindset of next-player-up.
“You see Kate Dente score a goal…” Fraggos said. “She has not put a ball in the back of the net for a while for us, but we have someone new step in.”
The PAISAA title would not come as easily for Episcopal as the score might reflect. It took 66 minutes to finally break through against Westtown, as Episcopal had to contain a lot of talent on the other side as well.
Westtown’s Olivia Bley, a senior and Delaware commit, had been a force all season in the Friends League, scoring countless goals and leading the Moose and the league with her strong and fast play that had caused headaches for opposing schools.
A significant reason for Episcopal’s shutting down Bley’s play was senior Natalie Magnotta, a Penn State commit, and the defensive craft she has exhibited at the highest level during her varsity career.
“We knew that she [Bley] is very strong and wants to turn on you,” Magnotta said. “So, for me and Ella, our centerbacks, we’ve been playing together all season; we know how to cover a good striker. We play pressure-cover off each other… and have each other’s backs.”
With the ball on her foot and space in front of her, she is dangerous. Period. Even against a juggernaut in Episcopal. So, for the Churchwomen, they went into the game knowing they had to not only contain Bley, but shut her down, given the impact she can have on a soccer match.
When asked if Episcopal’s defensive gameplan revolved around defending Bley, Fraggos was quite honest.
“Of course. Absolutely. She’s a force,” Fraggos said. “We definitely had to make sure that we were playing her correctly, and she is a special player. She got through and behind us a couple of times, but we cleaned it up a little bit and different players stepped into different roles.”
What often gets ignored but is really the heart and soul of this Episcopal team is the defensive unit. Simply put, the Churchwomen did not give up many goals this season. Against an offensive powerhouse in Westtown, which often scored six to seven goals per game in Friends League play, they continued their excellence.
Exaggeration? Of their 22 games this season, 15 of those games were shutouts. Of the 12 league games, 10 of them were shutouts. A lot of the credit should also go to Creamer.
“Defenders don’t get noticed very often,” Fraggos said. “And that’s been something this group with a lot of returners set their sights on, was these shutouts; getting zeros, no goals against them in games… That was a very big deal for them this year.”
For Episcopal, it is just another accomplishment in their already extremely accomplished season. They won the Inter-Ac in ten games. They did not lose one game in conference play. They won PAISAA. Of their 22 games played, 68 percent of them were shutout wins. Magnotta was selected to the High School All-American game later in December. She was also the most valuable player in the Inter-Ac. Bright, Dempsey, Lainey McGonagle, Quinn Whitaker, and Magnotta were all named First Team Inter-Ac. Ella Becket and Creamer earned Second Team nods. Grace McHugh received special recognition.
There will be only one 2023 Episcopal girls soccer team. The team will never be the same, and this made the Episcopal team so unique and so special. The themes of the school echo in all of the player’s minds as well, not just the coaches; it was togetherness, family, talent, and being on the same mission that helped propel Episcopal to the highest of the highs.
“Our team culture is amazing here,” Magnotta said. “Everyone has each other’s back. We had a huge win in our EA/Agnes Irwin Day, and it just showed how much everyone cares about this team… there is not a single person that we don’t lift up.”
Quite a similar statement to the one Fraggos made.
For Dente, it comes down to the togetherness of the team.
“A main word we use for this team is family,” Dente said.
Episcopal came close last year, but ultimately finished second behind Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in the Inter-Ac. This year, the talent was there, the senior leadership was there, the taste of almost getting over the hump was there.
So for Magnotta, who ends her high school career to play in the Big10 next year at Penn State, the pieces fell perfectly together for the season.
“We knew coming into the season that we wanted this to be our best season,” Magnotta said. “We knew we had the people; we knew we had the experience. From the beginning, this was our goal: win Inter-Ac, win PAISAA. Completing that finally feels really good as a team with everyone.”