In the first PhilaFH online poll to select the Game of the Week, fans couldn’t have been more spot on. The poll, posted by @PhilaFH on twitter and facebook, garnered more than 400 votes with the Conestoga vs. Downingtown East game topping the competition and surpassing the CB South vs. Souderton game by a margin of just four votes. (If students can glean anything from this Civics lesson this election year, it is that every vote counts.)
The Conestoga/Downingtown East match-up had a lot at stake, even this early in the season, and proved every bit as exciting as its buildup. For starters, the last time the teams met was at the 2015 PIAA AAA State Quarterfinals where D’East prevailed in a highly competitive game. Add to that the the D’East Cougars seniors had never fallen to the Conestoga Pioneers. Needless to say, D’East had a history to preserve and ‘Stoga had a lot to prove.
New coach. New players. New field. New uniforms.
Downingtown East has a lot of new marks in the program. Coach Julie Martelli took the reins of the defending ChesMont National league champions this fall and the team graduated eight starters including All-league honorees Kallie Gray (UNH), Cassie Hunter (JMU) and Claire Webb (2015 All-Region/#2 Syracuse). The Cougars also have a new home turf field. For Conestoga, clad in their new uniforms, eight starters return including three All-Central League honorees. Coach Megan Smyth is in her fifth season and has guided the Pioneers to Central League champions every year. Conestoga gradated seven players (3 starters) including All-League First Team selection, Casey Allen (Harvard) and Caroline Coladonato (Villanova). Their goalkeeper, Ali Showers (junior) is a first year varsity starter.
At first, the game looked like it may have been a repeat outcome, as the Cougars dominated and tallied the first goal off a corner at 22:13 from Siena Urbanski (soph, forward) assisted by Caroline Webb (soph, midfield.)
“I was surprised when I scored even the first time,” said Urbanski, a JV player last year who was sidelined for injury most of the season. “Hopefully, I can continue to bring my speed and ability to finish to the games.”
It wasn’t until ten minutes into the game that Conestoga entered their offensive 40 after a long-ball leading to a hard-hitting shot attempt by Charlotte de Vries (soph, mid) which led to a corner. Stoga’s Meredith Ross (senior, mid, captain) capitalized with a goal and de Vries assisted (18:42). Four minutes later after a D’East time out which seemed to fuel Conestoga, de Vries scored (14:48) with her signature reverse shot from the top of the circle. ‘Stoga was in the groove.
“We saw a lot of shots from top today that were hard to block,” Jenn Wilcox, D’East senior defender and captain said. “They have pretty strong sticks and are aggressive with their shots.”
At the half, Conestoga led 2-1; they broadened the lead to 4-2 off another de Vries goal (29:28) and corner goal by Emma McGillis (junior, forward), assisted by de Vries, who notched a game-high six points. The small pass combinations of de Vries, Kiley Allen (junior, mid), Ross, McGillis and Grace McEvoy (junior, mid) made for an effective offensive punch throughout the balance of the game. Their apparent chemistry was certainly a factor in the win.
“We connect with each other well; we don’t play selfishly,” said Ross. “We trust each other and that really pays off.”
“We’re good friends on and off the field,” added de Vries. “And we have a lot of confidence in each other. Our goals are to obviously make it to States and go even further, and to beat Unionville.”
De Vries and Allen traveled with their club team to China this summer; the experience brought cultural enrichment and another opportunity to play together yet again. They read each other very well and their different styles of play — de Vries a powerful force and Allen a poised performer — make for a highly effective one-two punch.
“Field hockey is an easy way for me to stay poised,” Allen noted. “I’m in my element and that’s when I can be focused and be the calm that the team needs.”
For McGillis, who has been playing with some of her teammates since second grade, the game had a rocky start but nothing they didn’t think they could pull out of with each other. “We were a little flustered and it took us a few minutes to get in the swing but after that, our chemistry was right. We want to put out all effort, every game and hold nothing back.”
Downingtown East did not let down and fought back, scoring the game’s last two goals. It was Urbanski and Webb who scored/assisted again at 24:37. Wilcox scored the final goal of the game (15:12) assisted by Tyler Wilson (junior) but it wasn’t enough.
“It was back-and-forth and back-and-forth the whole game,” Coach Martelli noted. “We executed so well but had a few things that we didn’t capitalize on like the ball hitting the post and missing a 1-on-1 with the goalie but we played with energy. We’re forming a new identity and taking it one day at a time, building up for conference play.”
Martelli added that this year’s leadership, led by senior captains Wilcox, Kathryn Scheerer and Annie Williams, has had a strong and positive impact on the team’s younger players.
“I’m really proud of our efforts today,” Scheerer said. “It’s just an honor (to be a captain). I’ve been waiting for my senior year and I just want my teammates to know that we can do this; we’re going to make it a team effort and work together to go as far.”
For D’East, the game was a good barometer on what their young team can accomplish. For Conestoga, it was sweet revenge and solid preparation for what they hope to be another undefeated league season.
“Every year, this is a game we get up for,” Coach Smyth said. “Our non-league games are as important as our league games and the team wanted this win; they remember last year’s game well. They’re doing a great job every day; they bring a big desire to play and to win.”
feature photo l to r: Conestoga’s Grace McEvoy; D’East’s Jenn Wilcox
photos top to bottom: Conestoga’s de Vries goal attempt thwarted by D’East’s GK Chloe Irwin; D’East’s defense and GK Claire Riley can’t hold off Ross; de Vries scores; Conestoga’s Meredith Ross up against Irwin
Photos courtesy of Tommy Meehan, Photos from the Sidelines (TommyMeehan.com)
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