The stage was set for a quintessential high school fall sporting event: a cool autumn breeze, a big stadium with cheering fans and students, the sounds of the marching band, and league rivals facing off. The two teams on center stage — Downingtown West and West Chester Henderson — put on quite a performance for the 4th Philafieldhockey Game of the Week 2017, selected by nearly 1,000 fans. Downingtown West entered the game as one of only three unbeaten teams in the Phila-area (113 teams). WC Henderson had only dropped one game. The contest started off with what appeared to be stage fright from both teams — and with good cause. D’West wanted to maintain its place at the top of the league; Henderson had the claim to fame possibility of taking down a 10-0 team. But in the end it was D’West, with incredible depth and skilled midfielders that stole the show, winning 3-0. For Henderson, it was a testament of fine defense as they held the Whippets to a triple, on 14 shots on goal.
“I loved being part of the Game of the Week. It was so much fun,” noted junior defender Anna Miller. “We all texted our friends and teams and told them to vote and we got them into it.” Miller, a fierce backfielder, along with fellow starting defenders Laine Garber (sr. captain), Katie Hoerman (sr.), and junior Celina Riccardo (jr.) have been critical in holding opponents to .62 goals per game this season, backed by goalkeeper Emily Franco who boasts a 95.5% save rate (#2 in the Phila-area) and recorded 15 saves in the game.
The Whippets’ attack is equally impressive having racked up an impressive 7.13 goals per game with numerous players making the box score in the goals and assists columns.
Shortly after the sound of the whistle, Henderson got off the first shot but D’West was quick to answer securing two corners by the 26:00 mark. The Whippets amassed 21 corner opportunities throughout the game, many created by skilled players who looked to hit the ball into the feet of two or three Henderson’s defenders who collapsed on the ball with conviction. The ball played back and forth throughout the half with D’West having an edge on possession time and tempo. Much of the Whippets’ play ran through senior captain Romea Riccardo (1a), a dynamo center middie who seemed to be everywhere. Outside midfielders captain Taylor Orsi and Ciana Riccardo were instrumental in transition and adept at pushing the ball to the squad’s crafty forwards — juniors Julianna Smyth (2g) and Claudia Jaszcak (1a) and sophomore Tatum Johnson (1g). The team consistently strung together fine passing combinations and executed impressive baseline play. The Whippets fired off 6 shots on goal in the first 30 minutes compared to Henderson’s 2 .
“We knew that Henderson is a really aggressive team to start out with so we had that in the back of our minds, and we knew that once we got a goal, they were going to get a goal right back. We knew we couldn’t sit back on our heels because of how aggressive they are,” said Romea Roccardo. “I felt like we needed to force, force, force — right after we got a foul, we had to go straight to the circle, and right when we got in the circle, we had to cause a corner. We had a lot this game and couldn’t capitalize on a lot of them, which was kind of hard. I think that’s one thing we need to work on because in big games, we’re just not going to get as many corners and we’re going to need to capitalize. But overall, we I thought we had a terrific game. Our defense played well, or goalie stepped up when she needed to and overall — a great game.”
D’West’s first goal didn’t come until 4:59 when Jaszcak smacked the ball from the right side, just inside the circle to Johnson who redirected it at 8 yards, catching the defense and Franco off guard.
The second half kicked off with D’West setting the tempo in what would be a dominant half. The Whippets secured 8 more shots on goal, and countless more than didn’t reach the goalkeeper due to Henderson’s strong defense led by senior captain Jordan Bauer and Franco (15 saves), whose critical saves kept the score in check.
“There were so many people in the circle — West, West, West, West — right in front of me. They really were everywhere,” said Franco. “I’m trying to be the voice of the back field and be like a like a third coach almost, in order to really aid my defenders, and they did so well.”
Bauer, who just made the change from defense to midfield, was a presence on all 100 yards and noted that although the team fell short, they know what they need to improve on. “I thought our D came out really strong today. We got the ball up well and into the offensive end but when we got the ball into the circle, we just couldn’t finish. It’s definitely something we can work on though.”
D’West’s Smyth found the net two times in the second half — first off a scramble in front of the net (unassisted) at 22:32. The final tally (8:06) was initiated by Orsi, who hit a hard flat ball from 25 yards to Celina Riccardo; Riccardo blasted the ball on goal where it was tipped from about the stroke line by Smyth.
“I think the first half was a little shaky between us,” said Smyth “but once we talked with the coaches, it all came together the second half. I think we all really passed the ball stronger and communicated better which just really helps with the game plan and helps in the long run.”
The two teams will not cross paths again as they advance to Districts at two different divisions: D’West in AAA and Henderson in AA. The game, undoubtedly, served as an excellent dress rehearsal for the balance of the season and post-season play. Both teams displayed admiration for their opponents.
“I think Henderson stepped up to the ball a lot and stayed composed a lot,” said D’West’s Orsi. “Some teams kind of lash out and get super aggressive with us but Henderson definitely stayed composed, kept up their pressure and kept up their aggressiveness with us. I think they’re an excellent team.”
“It was a tough game. I thought Downingtown West put up a good fight. I thought we did too. I’m not going to discredit them; they beat us to the ball and that’s something we’re going to have to work on in practice,” said Henderson forward/midfielder Lexie Dunleavy. “I think everywhere on the field, at different points, we didn’t have that player to pass to but they did.”
“I thought we played a really nice first half. I thought we did some really nice things. And the second half, we kept fighting, we just weren’t fighting smart,” said Henderson Head Coach Jen O’Donnell. “I think D’West is a very good team. They played very aggressive and they hit the ball strongly and they are physical.”
At the end of this quintessential fall high school sporting event, Downingtown West Head Coach, Liz Bradley sang praises of her team but also uttered caution in looking too far ahead.
“Usually when we play Henderson, it’s a very competitive game with both teams being pretty high up in the rankings on our side of the league, so we look for ChesMont Champs first and then we look further down the season. We don’t want to get too complacent or ahead of ourselves because when you do usually, you know, bad things start to happen,” said Bradley. “I do think the girls were a little nervous today because they know a lot of the girls through club so they were very excited and were talking about it from the start of school. And we sat back in our heels a little until we got in our rhythm but it came together… We’ve had great skillful players that have come through (the program) that play at phenomenal Division I schools but this year, as a whole, we don’t really have any weak areas. The girls have been playing together for years, they work really hard in the off-season, and they’re coming together as a unit. It’s awesome hockey to see. I can’t be more excited for them because these girls are doing some fabulous things on the field.”
Downingtown West 3, West Chester Henderson 0
at Downingtown West
ChesMont National game
Tatum Johnson assisted by Claudia Jaszczak (4:59)
Julianna Smyth (unassisted) (22:32)
Julianna Smyth assisted by Celina Riccardo (8:06)
Shots on goal: D’West: 14 (6, 8); Henderson: 3 (2, 1)
Corners: D’West: 21; Henderson 7
GK saves: Caitlin Coker, D’West 2 (1,1); Emily Franco, Henderson 15 (8, 7)
photo credit (except team photo): Jake Gallagher
Love the photos? 75 photos by Jake Gallagher can be found at Philafieldhockey’s Facebook page @philafh.
Note: the photos have been reduced for use on the web. Original photos are available.
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