Agnes Irwin and the Hill School faced off this week in the second round of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) State Tournament. AIS entered the slight favorite; they earned the #4 seed and also topped #5 Hill earlier in the season, 3-2. A ticket to the state semifinal was on the line for both teams and for Hill, it would be the first time in recent history that a non-InterAc team would advance. The program delivered what was expected: skilled players, disciplined hockey, strong defense, and enthusiastic fans despite the steady rain. Agnes Irwin dominated the first half highlighted by fine-tuned passing and five corners. Hill turned the tables on Irwin the second half, possessing the ball in their offensive 30 for much of the 30 minutes. But it was too little, too late. Agnes Irwin’s teamwork and strong defense ruled and they earned – for the sixth consecutive year – a spot in the state semifinal.
“I think we do really well when we work our passes and not try to take girls one-on-one. Our elimination and carrying skills are really strong but we’re always going to experience success when we’re doing in and out passes and working the sidelines as much as possible,” said AIS Head Coach Ali Monzo (a Hill School alumna). “So today our ability to connect with one another, pass consistently, and to put some interesting transfers together — shallow and deep and throughout the field – along with our defense, made the difference.”
Agnes Irwin fired off the first shot of the game less than 2 minutes in and set a fast-paced tempo for the balance of the half. Forwards Sydney Wolfington, Emma Macaione and Emma van der Veen passed with power and precision in transition into their offensive 25. Wolfington and Macaione, in particular, were formidable forces inside the circle, moving with conviction, firing off numerous shots and keeping Hill’s defense on their toes.
“Our win today was all because we played as a team,” said Wolfington. “We had great passing today which isn’t usually our strong suit so we really capitalized on that.”
Macaione tallied the first goal of the game at 13:31 off the pads of Hill GK Sophia Manganiello. The rebound goal was after a series of three shots from Alex Conway, Macaione and Wolfington and a defensive save by Hill’s Maddie Mitchell. It was one of those plays where you knew it was just a matter of time before the ball hit the backboard.
“As the center back, holding the team together as one and making sure we’re all playing together is a very important role especially with a high-playing team like Agnes Irwin,” said Mitchell. “They were coming out at us full force and we needed every person on the team running back to help on defense, which they did and that definitely helps me look good on the field.”
At 9:11, Hill answered back on a corner opportunity. Midfielder Josephine Palde received a pass after a corner insert, dodged 2 players inside the circle and snuck the ball past AIS GK Paige DiLullo in the low, left corner.
“I think we really work well together, on and off the field. We really look out for each other, like sisters do, and we know really well we’re the other one is on the field at all times,” said Josephine.
Less than five minutes later, AIS struck again, bringing the score to 2-1 – which it stayed until the final buzzer. This time, Alex Conway netted the goal off a corner insert and two small passes. Again, AIS’s passing game excelled and proved them worthy of moving on.
The second half looked like a different game offensively. Hill dominated possession, strung together passing combinations with Logan Clouse and the Palde sisters commanding the midfield. Hill fired off 6 of their 8 shots on goal but were unable to make it count. Irwin’s midfielders and defenders were on task in defending their home goal.
“Sometimes in the first half, we had a little bit of a breakdown in the defensive end but the second half we were just able to communicate and encourage each other well,” said AIS defender Meredith Murphy. “Really, our communication was what made the difference in the second half.”
Irwin’s goalkeeper DiLullo make numerous critical saves, often sliding to stop shots and keep the game in AIS’s favor.
A Hill time out with about 6 minutes burning on the clock gave both teams a chance to regroup.
“Hill is very strong, especially when they are down by one or two goals; they are really great about rallying together so (at the timeout), we were sort of prepared for the wrath,” said Coach Monzo. “But, we stuck with our game plan. We obviously know they are a strong team with a couple of key players that they keep in the center of the field so we drilled a lot in our heads, yesterday at practice, leading up to this game, and again at the time out to just keep the ball outside, deny the center of the field… and I think the worked well for us today.”
Both teams returned to the field with even more fire and put on a great hockey show. In he end it was Agnes Irwin who put together two strong halves – one more offense and more defensive – that earned them the victory.
“Hill had a lot of energy and transitioned the ball fairly well, especially the second half when the ball was in their attacking circle a lot but our defense really stuck it out and we were able to come out with a win,” said Macaione.
Despite Hill’s loss, first year head coach, Jen Weissbach had praise for her squad and her opponent. “The second half was a true testament to what we’ve been preaching as a team for the entire year. We preach passing hockey style of play and I think we dominated the possession and our passing was beautiful. We worked back to balls and worked both sides of the field. I just think we did a really nice job, and all credit goes to the girls because they bought into the system. They really played tough the second half; we just couldn’t find the back of the net. We always love playing Agnes Irwin. They bring a high level of play, we bring a high level of play, and a lot of the girls know each other from club, so it’s just a fantastic game and I just thought this was a really high level today that’s exciting to see.”
Undoubtedly, Wolfington has faith in her team. “I think we have to do exactly what we did today, but push a little harder. Notre Dame is a very skilled team and even though we fell to them in the past, I think we can beat them.”
photo credit: Jake Gallagher
Visit @Philafh on Facebook for the PhilaFH GAME OF THE WEEK Agnes Irwin vs. Hill photo album. Photos courtesy of Jake Gallagher.
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