This week’s Philafieldhockey.com Game of the Week poll – where fans choose one of four Phila-area HS match-ups to spotlight – garnered more than 1,100 votes on twitter and Facebook, with the Upper Perkiomen vs. Villa Maria game ultimately coming out on top. The game was a match-up between two District One AA teams, both ranked in the top 5, both with only one loss this season, and both facing an opponent they knew very little about. Neither team had played the other’s opponents all season, and the teams hadn’t faced off in recent years. Needless to say, there were a lot of question marks entering the match.
“I didn’t know anything about Upper Perk other than what I saw in the statistics. I knew they were scoring an average of seven goals a game and that they recently lost to Methacton in overtime,” noted Villa Maria Head Coach Daan Polders. “But I’m always more concerned about our game. We play our game. We may need to adjust – we didn’t today – but we need to stick with what we do. That’s the mindset we have.”
Villa’s game certainly did pay off. The Hurricanes lived up to their name: they blew in like a storm — fast and powerful — and earned a 9-2 victory.
“Today, I thought we played very well. I was a little nervous going in – not knowing this team and what to expect,” shared junior Emily Doyle, who created numerous opportunities for her teammates as a high forward. “But we made a lot of good passes, came together and played our game.”
“Good passes” is an understatement. Villa’s tight passing combinations – sometimes starting deep in their defensive 20 and touching half-a-dozen Villa sticks, played a major factor in their decisive win; they made the game look easy.
“I’ve been playing with Adele (Iacobucci, a sophomore) since kindergarten,” said sophomore, Hannah Miller. “We work really well together; we all really do. We play as a team, not as individuals.” Miller posted a career-high five goals including a rocket-like strike deserving of an ESPN highlight reel. “We always work on hitting the crossbar at practice. Daan taught us that, so yea, it really felt good.”
Despite Villa’s fast feet and fiery sticks, Upper Perk didn’t back down. The team was led by junior, Hope Flack on the offensive front (2 goals) and senior Gabby Martin in the backfield as well as first-year high school goalkeeper, Liz Pierson, who held Villa to 3 goals in the second half.
“We hadn’t played a team of this caliber and this aggressive; we weren’t prepared for that intensity,” Flack said. “They beat us to the ball and we have to learn from that. It was really good we played Villa. We’re going to face teams like this in Districts.”
Villa notched the first goal of the game less than three minutes in on a 14-yard reverse hit off a corner, from Adele Iacobucci. At 17:29, Doyle fielded a long pass from senior, captain Annina Iacobucci to record the second goal, which also resulted in a time-out for Upper Perk. At 8:18, Miller netted her first goal, after weaving through four defenders and snapping a reverse hit from 10 yards out. Three minutes later, it was senior midfielder, Aliya Kalman who scored after a succession of four passes and four shots; there was only so much the UPerk goalkeeper could do to fend off Villa’s attack.
“They were pounding the D hard and not a lot of teams have done that,” commented UPerk’s Martin. “They’re a dynamic team. They handled the ball well and they knew where to be. I have a lot of faith in my defense, though. We kept calm and marked… They’re in our district so we’re going to see them again. I’m excited. I think we can do it next time.”
At 4:07, a well-placed and poised rebound shot from Upper Perk’s Flack brought the game to 5-1. This goal was answered in less than a minute when Villa’s Adele Iacobucci made a 50-yard pass to Doyle, who drove the baseline, drew the defense and goalkeeper, and dished off to Annina Iacobucci, who popped it in the net. The final goal of the first half came with only 35 seconds on the clock, as Miller netted a composed shot after four seamless passes from junior Erin Zielinski to senior, captain Jen Finley to Annina Iacobucci (assist) to Miller.
“We were really playing our game today. We had some big balls hit from really deep and we stepped up to the ball consistently. We played amazing,” shared Zielinski.
The second half started well for the Upper Perk Tribe after junior Liz Fox forced a corner. After a short series of batting the ball around from both teams, Flack found the back of the net after tucking a short hit behind Villa’s goalkeeper, junior Danielle Acuna (who recorded nine saves on the day). Micheala Swenk earned the assist.
Three more unanswered goals followed – all from Miller and all unassisted (16:32, corner rebound at 8 yards; 10:35, crossbar shot from 13 yards after a series of precise passes from Jen Finley, junior Erin Finley, and junior Lindsay Dickinson; and 7:09 at 15 yards after a Doyle 1v1 to draw the goalkeeper).
“I think this was one of our best games,” noted Dickinson. “Our passing and outside cuts and inside cuts were there, and our forwards and middies finished. Daan creates a really great practice plan where we practice all these cuts – we don’t even have to think about it; it comes natural at game time.”
If what Villa gained from the game was a secured sense that they can face the unknown – teams they know very little about – they are better prepared for post-season play. Last year, the Hurricanes advanced to the finals of the PIAA AA State Championship; they won it all in 2014.
For the Upper Perkiomen Tribe and their coach, the game was also a great stepping stone for future competition outside the PAC Frontier.
“It’s always good to play a team from the Catholic Academies; they play good hockey!” shared Upper Perk Coach, Jamie Warren. “They’re very aggressive and no one plays like them in our league so it was a tough game but a good game for us to learn from. When we get in a game like this, we need to keep up our level of intensity and I feel like we did that. We rose to the competition. We made mistakes like letting them score in the last 20 seconds (1st half) and we need to prevent this. I know this will help us in PAC playoffs when we face teams from bigger schools with aggressive teams.”
Upper Perk’s senior goalkeeper, Pierson hasn’t played field hockey since 8th grade, but decided to join the team in large part because of the sense of community the team shares. “Our motto is ‘Together we stand, together we fall; together we win, and winners take all.’ We have a great bond and teamwork and we’ll learn from this game. Villa was just a really good team. They found the open players and seemed to always come up with the balls on clears.” Pierson recorded 18 saves, a few of which were diving and brought the Tribe fans to their feet.
Both teams have many games before playoffs but this Game of the Week will help them prepare when that time rolls around.
“I was pleased with the fast, high pace. We used space well and we were making the right decisions” Coach Polders noted. “I was not pleased with how they (Upper Perk) scored their goals, slipping them in on the side, but they learn not only from the good that they do, but from the bad things too. Post-season is post-season. I’m thinking about the next game. We prepare as much as we can and we play our game. We’re ready.”
Hannah Miller: 5 goals
Emily Doyle: 1 goal, 1 assist
Annina Iacobucci: 1 goal, 1 assist
Aliya Kalman: 1 goal
Adele Iacobucci: 1 goal
GK, Danielle Acuna: faced 11 shots on goal, 9 saves
Villa record: 9-1
Hope Flack – 2 goals
Micheala Swenk – 1 Assist
Goalie, Liz Pierson: faced 27 shots on goal, 18 saves
UP Record 11 – 2
Photos by Tommy Meehan, Photos from the Sidelines. Photos available for purchase. Click on photos to enlarge.
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