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Last Year’s Champions Return To The Starting Line

By John Knebels - Angelise Stuhl & Angela DelVecchio also contributed, 09/14/16, 10:00AM EDT


Photo Caption: (From Left to Right, Bottom to Top) Emily Bienkampen (EA), Cara Degnan (O’Hara), Matthew Flanagan (RC), Grace Stackhouse (Arch. Ryan), Caleb Clothier (HAV), Molly O’Brien (EA), Emma Rapp (GA), Corinne Zanolli (EA), Noelle Sheridan (Arch. Wood), Makayla Gallen (O’Hara), Dajone Averett (W. Catholic), Ismail Morrison (HAV), Syaire Madden (LCHS), Anthony Diodato (Arch. Wood) / photo by Zamani Feelings

When a team wins a championship, the moment is frozen in time. Celebrations follow. Lifetime memories are sustained.

For the players that return the following season, however, a significant challenge unfolds. Every team begins the season with a 0-0 record. In order to defend their title, the players and coaches must completely change focus from the past to the present.

“Whether we won or lost, we’re not defending anything,” said St. Joseph’s Prep coach Gabe Infante, whose Hawks captured two straight Catholic League and PIAA Class AAAA state titles before being toppled in the CL final by LaSalle last fall. “We don’t harp on that. That’s in the past. We are motivated by what is ahead of us.”

In the Philadelphia Catholic League, three football teams were crowned champion. La Salle captured the Class AAAA, Archbishop Wood the AAA, and West Catholic the AA. In the Inter-Academic League, Haverford orchestrated an incredible undefeated season.

Roman Catholic won the Catholic League boys’ soccer title while Archbishop Ryan snared the girls’. In the Inter-Ac, Haverford seized the boys’ championship and Episcopal Academy the girls. Archbishop Ryan claimed the PCL girls’ volleyball title and Germantown Academy mirrored for the Inter-Ac. Episcopal Academy was awarded the Inter-Ac crown for both field hockey and girls’ tennis while Cardinal O’Hara snagged the title in both sports for the PCL.

The question for those fourteen teams becomes . . . So what now?


La Salle College High School Football

The Explorers started four, sometimes five underclassmen on both sides of the ball, but the youth didn’t prevent the Explorers from defeating St. Joseph’s Prep in the AAAA final.

La Salle senior, Syaire Madden - PSD photo by Zamani Feelings

Although the Explorers were dealt a huge blow when multi-purpose junior star Isaiah Jones was lost for this upcoming season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament during the summer, the Explorers return significant talent behind senior running back Syaire Madden (14 touchdowns and 1,213 yards), junior tight end Liam Trainer, DL junior Chris Maloney, junior linebacker Austin Lemke, and junior two-way lineman Garrett Zobel. Senior Tom LaMorte is the new quarterback.

“To be Catholic League champs, you have to work hard at it,” said La Salle coach John Steinmetz. “They know what the expectations are.”

SEASON GOALS: “We want to get better every day and focus on the team we have coming up each week. I’ve never been to a State Championship so I want to get there and most importantly beat Prep (St. Joseph’s Prep),” said Explorers senior running back Syaire Madden. 

Archbishop Wood Football

Moving to a new division doesn’t faze coach Steve Devlin.

“It’s different and it isn’t different,” said Devlin. “We are playing more games, just some different teams. We always play a tough schedule.”

Devlin said the Vikings have “a lot of game-ready kids who are very athletic and have a lot of speed.” 

Archbishop Wood senior, Anthony Diodato - PSD Photo by Zamani Feelings

“Right now, the ultimate goal is to win the Catholic League,” he said. “Then that will get us to the next goal.”

Although Wood’s starting quarterback has not yet been announced, the Vikings return a bevy of weapons on offense in rugged running back (and defensive back) Raheem Blackshear (24 total touchdowns), wide receiver Mark Webb (25.4 yards per catch, 10 of 22 catches for touchdowns), tight end Anthony Diodato, and fullback Shawn Thompson – all seniors. On defense, Diodato (line) and junior Matt Palmer (linebacker) anchor a unit that surrendered only 64 points in eight CL games. Senior kicker Dan Zanine was among the area’s leaders with 73 points.

SEASON GOALS: “Our goal this year is to work as hard as we can, play as hard as we can to make it to the end of the year and win the State Championship. That’s the end- all-be-all team goal,” said senior and Fordham University commit, Anthony Diodato. 

West Catholic Football

Winning another Catholic League championship will require a bit more work. The Burrs will now need to defeat several teams that were in the AAA last year. Coach Brian Fluck recognizes the task.

“We talk to the kids every day about preparing every day to be in a battle,” said Fluck. “We’ve been very successful over the past 10 to 12 years. Teams try to knock you off because of your notoriety.”

West Catholic senior, Dajone Averett - PSD Photo by Zamani Feelings

The Burrs return a senior All-Catholic backfield of Calil Wortham (902 yards, 10 TDs) and Supreme Kemp, along with junior Rovny Da’Silva, a second-team selection at both linebacker and punter. Senior Amadou Barry caught seven touchdowns last year. Senior Ahmad Kent assumes multiple roles – wide receiver, defensive back, kick returner – and senior Josh Taylor will supply bulk on both sides of the line.

“We’re keeping the kids focused on our mission,” said Fluck. “They can’t falter. We have to compete every week. Each week is a playoff game.”

SEASON GOALS: “We want to go to the State Championship and win because last year we made it to the semifinals and lost. So we believe we can make it there this season and win it,” said Burrs senior wide-receiver and cornerback Dajone Averett. 

The Haverford School Football

Reviewing the highlights of last year’s 10-0 squad would take a few thousand words. Anyone who was privileged to watch the Fords in 2015 undoubtedly emerged as satisfied customers. The Fords outscored their opponents, 380-185, overall, and 180-82 in five league contests.

Making something similar happen in 2016 will be a formidable mission. Most of the Fords’ starters graduated, and the Inter-Ac has improved since last year. Anyone who wants to consider Haverford School an underdog is a welcomed doubter to the players who return.

“We had solid depth that included a lot of younger players,” said senior first-team All-Inter-Ac quarterback Tommy Toal. “We will benefit from that. Coach (Mike) Murphy puts us in position to succeed.”

Haverford School senior, Ismail Morrison - PSD Photo by Zamani Feelings

As a junior, Toal’s performance belied his age. In eight games, Toal completed 120 of 178 passes for 1,630 yards and 18 touchdowns. He added 161 yards and five scores on the ground. More importantly, his countenance under pressure was exemplary.

Senior Malik Twyman (892 yards rushing; 16 total TD’s) will receive most of the carries at running back.  The main receiving targets will be senior wideouts Aaron Hudson and Conner Mosebrook; junior Ismail Morrison will play slot. The defense will rely on all-league linemen Colin Hurlbrink (junior first-teamer) and Asim Richards (sophomore second-teamer). Senior Chris Kober moves to middle linebacker.

“The team will be more balanced this year,” said Toal. “A lot more guys will have to step up. You can already see us meshing as a team.” 

SEASON GOALS: “We have to play hard every game and not look at last years’ team. Us players have to step up and we have to reach our goal of winning the Inter-Ac,” said Fords senior receiver Ismail Morrison 

Boys' Soccer

Roman Catholic Soccer

The Cahillites upended Father Judge in penalty kicks after 110 minutes of scoreless play, including sudden death, en route to a thrilling title.

If the Cahillites are to repeat, players such as senior defender Artie Dolan, senior midfielder Matt Flanagan, and sophomore forward Jared Dillon must lead the way. Dolan and Flanagan are three-year starters and team co-captains.

Roman Catholic senior, Matthew Flanagan - PSD Photo by Zamani Feelings

Certainly, the mere fact that we go into the 2016 season as defending champions is the biggest lesson learned,” said Roman head coach Ray DeStephanis. “We know how hard it is just to sniff the championship and how a bad bounce or unfortunate mistake can change your fortunes. Now that we've attained that goal, we have to retain the fire and hunger from within and basically find a way to guard against and rise above the unexpected. If we can do that, we, just like any other team, can make a deep run into the playoffs.”

SEASON GOALS: “We have to keep doing what we did last season and hold a strong defense, except this year, make it to Districts and go on to States,” said Cahillites senior Matthew Flanagan. 

The Haverford School Soccer

The Fords’ fourth consecutive title was cemented with a 2-0 win over Episcopal Academy, followed by a Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISSA) championship victory over Malvern Prep. According to senior standout Josh Ridenhour, Haverford School recognizes how difficult it will be to add yet more hardware to the school’s already filled trophy case.

“We definitely know how it feels to bring home the Inter-Ac championship back to Haverford,” said Ridenhour. “We also know what it takes to do so and that no match is easy to call. With that in mind, all of us are excited to try and repeat what has been done the last four years.”

Haverford School senior, Caleb Clothier - PSD photo by Zamani Feelings

The Fords graduated a host of starters, but with senior returning starters Ridenhour, Evan Scott, Caleb Clothier, Dean Manko, and junior goalie Will Baltrus, a strong foundation remains.

“Most of our team is young, and many of us will be new to our system,” said Ridenhour. “I find this to be both a strength and a weakness in the sense that physicality and experience will not be our forte, but technical ability and brotherhood will. I feel that under our coach, Bill Brady, we will do quite well. As far as pressure goes, I don't think there is any. Each year our goal has been to be better than the last and always play our best game. We've been pretty successful in doing so these past years so I believe this year won't be different.”

SEASON OUTLOOK: “We lost a very skilled senior class, but I don’t think it has put us back because that means there are opportunities for the younger guys to step up. I think we are going to surprise some people on how good we are actually going to be because I’m seeing our guys practice and we’re looking pretty good,” said Fords senior midfielder Caleb Clothier. 

2015 PCL Reigning Champions - PSD photo by Zamani Feelings

Girls' Soccer

Episcopal Academy Girls’ Soccer

The Churchladies’ motto last fall was “Whatever it Takes”, and it proved to be very fitting. A 13-4-2 overall record included a title-clinching 10-1-1 mark in the Inter-Ac and a 1-0 loss to Germantown Academy in the PAISAA championship. So, now what?  

First-year head coach Andy Faggos isn’t making any predictions, but he likes what he sees.

“We have a solid core of returning players who have the experience, confidence, and skill to be up for the challenge of replicating the team’s success from last year,” he said.

A hefty quantity of returning starters includes seniors Reilly Wright and co-captains Lily Shaner and Molly O'Brien; juniors Annie Doig and goaltenders Morgan Messner and Hannah Moriartry; and sophomores Olivia Dirks, Anna Salvucci and Maddie Loughead.

Episcopal Academy senior, Molly O'Brien - PSD Photo by Zamani Feelings

Dirks was asked about her early impressions.

“Of course it will be difficult to repeat as champions; the competition is always tough,” she said. “But we have a great team coming back and we have been working hard in the pre-season.”

Having a new coach, she said, should not be a problem.

“The team is excited about working with Coach Fraggos,” said Dirks. “He knows a lot about the game and can definitely lead us to another championship. Our team will definitely be different. We have a lot of work to do between now and the beginning of the season. Overall we are a very strong team and we all are comfortable playing together.” 

SEASON OUTLOOK: “We have a new coach and we absolutely want to win the Inter-Ac again and win the PAISAA final. We have great senior leadership this year and are also a young team with great freshmen coming in. We look strong and I can tell everyone is committed to working hard and making a difference on the field,” said senior captain and Loyola University of Maryland commit, Molly O’Brien. 

Archbishop Ryan Girls’ Soccer

The Ragdolls graduated 12 starters from a team that earned its fourth straight crown and sixth in the last 11. Senior Grace Stackhouse is taking an optimistic approach.

Every year there is extreme pressure for any team in the Catholic League,” she said. “This year is going to be a lot different than previous years given that we graduated so many players, so it is definitely going to be a huge opportunity for our underclassmen to show everyone what they can do.”

Stackhouse is working diligently to return from an anterior cruciate ligament tear suffered in April. Once recovered, she will join an all-junior cast of Devon McDonald, Madison Taylor, and Priscilla Walsh as returning starters. 

Archbishop Ryan senior, Grace Stackhouse - PSD Photo by Zamani Feelings

Taking over the program from Ryan Haney (now the Ryan boys’ soccer coach) as head coach will be Jonathan Geist, an assistant the past four years. Geist described his new assignment as a “privilege” and fully comprehends the winning tradition at Ryan.

“Being the defending champ, you are always going to get every team's best game,” said Geist. “When you are the four-time defending champ, the goal for the other team to beat you definitely increases. So the pressure is there, but the new players who will be added to the lineup have a different skill set than those who graduated.”

Geist acknowledged that the “unknown” could be Ryan’s Achilles heel. He also echoed Stackhouse’s point about opportunity.

   “With graduating 12 players last year, a lot of younger girls will be given the opportunity to step into the starting lineup,” said Geist. “The strength of the team is that these younger players have been playing along side each other at a high level at Ryan and on their club teams. This group is a lot different than the one that just graduated, and as a result the formation will change and the style of play will change for the program. But these girls have been playing to their strengths for a few seasons now.”

TEAM GOAL: “We had a lot of seniors graduate last year so there are a lot of new faces to our program. So this season we’re focusing on working as a team, sticking together and getting to know each other,” said senior Grace Stackhouse. 

Girls' Tennis

Episcopal Academy Girls’ Tennis

For Episcopal Academy’s girls’ tennis team, success is not determined by wins and losses, but rather by the effort and improvement showcased by each player. EA’s head coach Whitaker Powell is entering his 16th season, and although he has been at the helm for over a decade, his expectations of continued excellence remain the same from season to season. 

Episcopal Academy senior, Emily Beinkampen - PSD photo by Zamani Feelings

The theme of every season is to challenge ourselves every day to get better physically, mentally and emotionally,” said Powell. “We use the word ‘compete’ in everything we talk about. In addition, we don’t use the term ‘practice’, instead we use ‘match preparation’ so we can stress how valuable each and every session is.”

EA’s ‘match preparation’ mentality has definitely proven effective as the team has either shared or been awarded the Inter-Ac title in 13 of the past 15 years.

If you approach each day with the right attitude, the winning tends to take care of itself,” said Powell.

TEAM GOALS: “This year we lost a few seniors so me and my fellow captain, Nina Stavropolous, aim to get strong new freshmen on the team this season and win the Inter-Ac,” said EA’s senior co-captain Emily Beinkampen.

Cardinal O’Hara Girls’ Tennis

After winning back-to-back Philadelphia Catholic League titles, Cardinal O’Hara’s girls’ tennis team is aiming for a three-peat. Head coach, Patty Fitzgerald, explained that her squad’s success last season was primarily due to the confidence and drive exemplified by her senior class.

“I had a lot of seniors that really stepped up last season. They came to practice every day, wanted to improve on their game and really wanted to win again,” said Fitzgerald. 

Cardinal O'Hara senior, Cara Degnan - PSD photo by Zamani Feelings

As a result of graduation, O’Hara’s team lost two starting singles players as well as a starting doubles team. Despite the loss in veteran experience, this year the team will be fueled by two very ambitious sisters who are ready to defend their teams’ PCL title. Anna Marie Degnan (sophomore) returns as O’Hara’s No. 1 singles player and her sister, Cara Degnan (senior), will be playing singles instead of No. 1 doubles this fall.

“I think this year, Anna Marie (Degnan) will really step up, she definitely has the ability and I know she’s been improving upon her game in the offseason,” said Fitzgerald, who will be entering her 10th coaching season.

SEASON OUTLOOK: “Our coach has been emphasizing team bonding, that you need to trust your doubles partner and trust yourself,” said O’Hara senior Cara Degnan.

2015 Inter-Ac Reigning Champions - PSD photo by Zamani Feelings

Girls' Volleyball

Germantown Academy Girls’ Volleyball

The Lady Patriots had a stellar season last fall. For the first time in its short history, the Lady Patriots clinched the Inter-Ac title with a 3-0 victory against Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.

With a 14-2 overall record that included an 8-0 Inter-Ac sweep and a tough 3-2 loss to Academy of Notre Dame de Namur in the PAISSA championship, this team has no intention of letting its young age fool you.

Going only into its fifth fall season, head coach Dan Sullivan’s focus for his team remains unpretentious. “Keep it simple, take care of the ball on our side of the net, and focus on the here and now,” said Sullivan.

The team lost a bit of fire power and defense to five graduating seniors but Sullivan is confident in his upcoming talent to fill those shoes. 

Germantown Academy senior, Emma Rapp - PSD Photo by Zamani Feelings

Seniors Emma Rapp, Abby Starzecky and Carly Shimota will all be big contributors. Junior Cat Polisano will be back running the offense from the setter position.  Junior Jenna Schumann is also a key returnee, who is in my opinion one of the most versatile players in the league,” said Sullivan

No doubt his team is ready to take on their challengers.

“We'll continue to work hard in practice and try to play well enough to win every point.  We understand that it’s impossible (to win every point), but if we make our opponent absolutely earn every point they accrue, then we'll be in good shape,” he said.

The team is already off to a good start. The Lady Patriots were honored this July with the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Team Academic Award. They were one of 260 high school teams in the country recognized for their academic achievements throughout the school year.

SEASON OUTLOOK: “We have young up-and-coming talent that we have high expectations for, so it’s a good reconstruction year for us. Winning the Inter-Ac is definitely a goal again this season. We did fall in the PAISAA tournament to another Inter-Ac team, so we are hoping to win that this year,” said senior Emma Rapp

Archbishop Wood Girls’ Volleyball

The Lady Vikings graduated 10 seniors from its championship lineup which helped clinch their first PCL Title since 2010. 

An impressive 19-2 overall record and an 11-0 league sweep led to the squad’s 3-1 PCL crown over Archbishop Carroll and a 3-0 District 12AA Championship title win against Julia R. Masterman, its first District title in five years.

New at the helm this year is head coach Maureen Thorpe. Thorpe, who currently serves as the boys’ assistant coach, is taking over the position previously held by Sarah Spadafora. 

Archbishop Wood senior, Noelle Sheridan - PSD photo by Zamani Feelings

“We have a great core of seniors, Megan Gozdan (setter), Emma Prajzner (outside hitter) and our defensive specialists/liberos, Noelle Sheridan and Erin Martin, who will all see significant playing time. Juniors Molly Prior (middle) and Shauna Matthews (outside hitter) will also play a strong role this season,” said Thorpe.

Thorpe knows her team shares a strong history and feels their greatest challenge will be their natural desire to repeat last year’s season.

“The only way to help them face that challenge is to teach them to play for themselves and each other, always looking forward,” said Thorpe.

TEAM GOALS: “My coach has been focusing on having us bring our heart to every game. We lost 10 seniors so we want to work together and make it to the playoffs,” said senior Noelle Sheridan. 

Field Hockey

Episcopal Academy Field Hockey

Senior leadership, talented players and selfless play are the three components Episcopal Academy’s field hockey coach, Gina Buggy attributed to their undefeated regular season last year.

“Last year’s team was determined to carry on the winning tradition from the prior season,” said Buggy. “The expectations were high coming into the season and this group embraced this challenge, worked hard together and sacrificed individual achievements for the good of the team.”

The Churchwomen ended their season ranked No. 3 in the nation by Max Field Hockey after defeating Inter-Ac rival Agnes Irwin 4-0 in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) championship game. 

Episcopal Academy senior, Corinne Zanolli - PSD photo by Zamani Feelings

This year is no different in terms of Buggy having high expectations of her team. Her constant emphasis on a “TEAM” approach is what she believes will be a key factor in generating another winning season.

“We genuinely believe that in order to be successful as a team, we have to be willing to work hard together and extend ourselves beyond our comfort zone,” said Buggy.

“Seniors must reach out to the younger players and help them to understand our expectations. Younger players must be willing to be challenged and everyone must be committed to the concept of TEAM.”  

TEAM GOALS: “We are really trying to make sure that everyone is unified. We’ve had great success in the past, but it’s about what you can bring to the table every year. It’s a clean slate, so we really want to work hard, come together as a team, have fun and do well,” said EA senior and Stanford commit, Corinne Zanolli. 

Cardinal O’Hara Field Hockey

Last year Cardinal O’Hara defeated Bonner-Prendergast 4-0 in the PCL Championship game. The victory marked O’Hara’s second PCL field hockey title in three years.

“I think last year what contributed to our success is our mindset and how we worked together,” said senior mid-fielder and 2015 league MVP Makayla Gallen. “Throughout our season we never walked onto the field thinking it was going to be an easy game. We used our losses to fix our mistakes and our wins to give us more confidence.” 

Cardinal O'Hara senior, Makayla Gallen - PSD photo by Zamani Feelings

Gallen, along with fellow standout seniors Molly Grady (forward), Hannah Nihill (forward), Emily Quintus (mid-fielder) and Jen Ahearn (goalie), will continue to use last season’s mentality to propel their team this fall.

“Being a close knit team, we're always together, making everything we do on the field so much easier. We are always pushing and motivating each other to do our best,” said Gallen. “This year we'll continue to use this mindset against new teams.”

The lady Lions will be lead by head coach Marie Murphy Paolucci, who will be entering her seventh season.

TEAM GOALS: “We have a lot of seniors this year so we really want to show our leadership and set a good example for the underclassmen. But really we are trying to take it one game at a time and become PCL champs again,” said University of Virginia commit Makayla Gallen.