It was the Game of the Week but without question, it could have been called the Game of the Season. The Downingtown West Whippets clawed their way back from a 2-0 deficit to earn their first District One AAA title, previously held by their opponent Conestoga. The game was a go-get-‘em, leave-it-all-on-the-field, intense and physical showdown ending with a goal at the 2:40 mark that put the fans on their feet at Methacton High School.
After her initial corner hit, West’s Romea Riccardo notched the game-winner off a deflection from ‘Stoga goalkeeper, Ali Showers.
“I knew that there were 3 minutes left in the game and that I needed to just give it my all,” said Riccardo. “I was thinking that if the ball’s coming to me on the corner, I’m going to take a shot as hard as I can. I did and then I saw the ball come right back to me, and I felt like people weren’t really going to the ball, so I just went straight to it.”
Riccardo also notched the tying goal at the 12:49 mark, off a perfectly placed penalty stroke.
“That penalty stroke helped our team, I think,” said Riccardo. “I mean, we then had the mindset that we’re not losing 2-1; we’re tied 2-2. We’re still in it, there’s still more, there’s overtime. It kind of gave our team this ‘let’s go, we still have this’ mentality.”
Seems that the mentality was also what jump-started the Whippets in the second half after Conestoga dominated the first 30 minutes with a fast tempo, quick free hits, and offensive punch.
With tensions high and more than a little pushing ensuing, the umpires called a timeout seconds after the goal to get the game under control.
“It really started to get physical and not how either team should play,” said Conestoga defender Grace McEvoy. “Everyone knows all of the players from the opposing team, so it kind of got in everyone’s head.”
The Pioneers struck again twelve minutes later when Kiley Allen fired a rocket from the top of the circle that seemed to catch the Whippets off guard. Allen controlled the Pioneers midfield, took the team’s free positions in the backfield, and busted numerous Whippet attempts to enter their circle.
West closed the gap to 2-1 late in the first half when, after a corner played out, Taylor Orsi sent a long ball inside the circle which Tatum Johnson redirected to the lower, right corner.
Despite nine West corners the first half alone, ‘Stoga’s defensive and midfield lines composed of Allen, McEvoy, Kendall McGee, Carly Hynd, Dani Dittman, Lauren Cauley, Anna Mayock and sometimes de Vries, held the Whippets to one goal and three shots on goal. They marked Riccardo closely the first half, kept her from scoring, but didn’t seem to slow down her transfers and ability to force corners.
“In this game, our defense was really strong,” said Allen. “But we did get frustrated. We never, ever get frustrated with each other but I think the other team started to get physical and when their play got a little crazy, we got a little frazzled.”
The second half started and ended with West dominating the tempo and possession.
“We went over what we needed to do after we played them last time. We watched film and we prepared for today,” said West head coach Liz Bradley. “At the half we talked again about what we had to do but hadn’t yet: transfer the ball around the 25, get it back over to the left side, and keep the ball out of the center away from Char (de Vries) and Kiley (Allen).”
And that they did. West’s “D” and middies kept the ball out of the danger zone and kept their talented and poised forward line — Johnson, Juliana Smyth, Claudia Jaszczak and Sierra Angelini — well fed with balls down the sides.
Led by Romea Riccardo, Celina Riccardo, Ciana Riccardo, Orsi, Anna Miller and Katie Hoerman, the Whippets’ defenders and middies also shut out ‘Stoga’s offensive line — McGillis, Annie Hirshman, and top scoring threat, de Vries. They strategically reduced de Vries and Allen’s possession time, although de Vries’ ball speed and powerful hit still dazzled. There was, however, a 7-minute momentum switch in the middle of the half when ‘Stoga racked up all four of their corners but could not deliver.
“I think we had a hard time getting the ball to the offense,” said McGillis. “When we did get it out, we had some really nice passing patterns and some good opportunities but it’s just about finishing at that point and I think we could have definitely done a better job on that. We also did not get as many corners as I thought we would; we usually get a lot. And so when we have so few corners, we need to capitalize on them.”
It was only after Riccardo’s game-tying penalty stroke that Conestoga had a near goal when de Vries snapped a high-hitting shot to the top, left corner, only to be blocked by West GK Catilin Coker, who made the save of the day.
“I saw the shot go up and I knew I had to get some part of my body on it,” said Coker. “I knew I had to keep it out and that’s what I did. I just stuck my stick out there and hoped for the best.”
Shortly after the incredible save, Riccardo notched the game-winner, Conestoga called a time out, and the final two minutes played out with increased intensity, if that was even possible. At the final buzzer, West won the game, added to their unblemished record, and punched their ticket as the District One AAA #1 seed entering the state tournament.
“Getting a 2-nothing lead against D’West — you’ve got to hold on to it because they’re not used to losing and they proved that they know how to win,” said Conestoga head coach Kerry de Vries. “It was a super competitive and exciting game, as always against D’West, and I congratulate them. I wish Downingtown West the best of luck in the state tournament, but I also know that we’re not done.”
“It’s just an amazing accomplishment for these girls that they are going to remember for years and years to come,” said Bradley, West’s coach. “They’re always going to remember the game, each other, and the process that we went through to get to this point.”
“I thought it was an amazing comeback. We were down 2-0 in the first half and we honestly just had to get in our huddle and remind ourselves just who we are and how we work as a team, and that’s what really brought us back in the second half,” said Orsi.
“Overall, they played hard and we played hard, “said Romea Riccardo. “I thought in the first half, they really brought it to us and we weren’t really ready for that. They got too quick goals and it was a very slow start but we got it together, we really did. A lot of us were very nervous; there was a lot on the line. West field hockey has never won a District championship and it’s just crazy! We’re still trying to process it!”
Note: A record-breaking 1,357 votes were tallied for this PhilaFH GAME OF THE WEEK.
Conestoga: McGillis (de Vries) at 22:58
Conestoga: Allen at 10:31
D’West: Johnson (Orsi) at 2:44
D’West: Romea Riccardo (stroke) at 12:59
D’West: Romea Riccardo at 2:40
Shots on goal:
D’West: 5 (3,2)
Conestoga: 4 (4,0)
D’West: 16 (9, 7)
Conestoga: 8 (4,4)
West’s Coker: 6
Conestoga’s Showers: 8
photo credit: Jack Kapp
Visit @Philafh on Facebook for the PhilaFH GAME OF THE WEEK D’West vs. Conestoga photo album. 135 outstanding photos courtesy of Jack Kapp.
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