FRANCONIA >> Call it a coach’s intuition.
Christopher Dock girls soccer coach Ray Hess had a hunch that junior Marissa Campo was going to get herself a goal Wednesday night. It took 78 minutes, but Hess’ gut feeling proved correct when Campo delivered to give the Pioneers a hard-earned 1-0 win over The Christian Academy in the District 1 Class A final.
It also marked the fifth straight year that Dock won the district title.
“She didn’t play that much in the last game because we needed more marking,” Hess said. “We needed some speed tonight. You saw her get around the corner a couple of times and I just felt we had an advantage with her being in the game.”
It was a valiant end to the season for TCA, making its first district title appearance in its first season playing in the PIAA.
“It’s always hard to lose, especially in the 78th minute, but for it being a loss, it was the way to go because we left it all on the field,” Crusaders coach Katie Dennstaedt said. “I told the girls at the beginning of the game if you can leave the field after leaving everything, then we’ve done our job.”
Dock dominated in terms of possession and opportunities but TCA acquitted itself well in defense. The Crusaders kept Dock from generating chances inside the box and forced the Pioneers to volley from distance and off the wings.
Both teams were well-aware of who they were supposed to be marking.
Denstaedt said she left Grace Gormley back to utilize her speed and marking ability while Grace Cryan was also strong in the back.
TCA kept eyes on Dock’s dangerous Niki Clements while the Pioneers didn’t let Carli Sitkowski roam anywhere without at least one shadow. Applying quick doubles when either touched the ball, both defenses wanted to force someone else to beat them.
“We just had to pass and keep possession and win every single 50/50 ball,” Campo said. “We had to really just play with our hearts.”
After being down 5-0 in corner kicks at half, TCA earned one 45 seconds into the second half. It nearly paid off when Grace Cryan got a head on the end of it. Her attempt was stuffed by a defender and a follow-up swallowed up by Dock keeper Audrey Schweizerhof.
“The key to the game was our keeper making the save on that corner kick,” Hess said. “If that goes in, we’re in trouble. She came up big and the kid’s a freshman too. I didn’t know who was going to play for us and we got her and she’s been marvelous.”
A few moments later, the Crusaders put a shot over as they continued their cracking start to the second half.
“We had some good opportunities, we weren’t expecting to have a ton,” Dennstaedt said. “There were a couple we could have finished we didn’t but I also asked a ton of Carli Sitkowski and Lindsay Haseltine in the midfield being the only two really that were forward. They gave a great effort and had to be exhausted.”
Dock settled and came back with a few more cracks from deep but TCA keeper Madison Dutton handled both well. Dutton read the game well and attacked the ball, not letting Dock get the chance to gain control inside her six-yard box.
With about 24:15 left in the second half, Dock’s Rachel Schreiner had a key tackle on Sitkowski to win the ball off the high-scoring Crusader’s foot. Dutton followed that up with nice plays, first grabbing a cross then snaring a corner out of the air with Dock players swarming.
TCA met with near disaster when Dock winger McKenzie Swartley beat Dutton to a ball in space, touched around the keeper and played a ball across the face of goal. Unfortunately for the Pioneers, Swartley didn’t have enough of an angle to glance it in and a supporting run never materialized in time for an easy tap-in.
“We were really nervous but I’m glad we pushed through ,” Campo said. “It really does (get frustrating) when you keep possession and nothing is going in. We did have possession most of the time and just really wanted to get that goal.”
Just as it seemed time was going to expire, Campo delivered exactly what her team needed. The junior found her way to a ball on the right side and bombed it toward the net.
The ball had the angle and enough height. Dutton made a great play to jump up and put a palm on it, but it wasn’t enough to push the ball over and it dropped in with 2:49 left to play.
“I was more going for a cross and trying to hit another body,” Campo confessed. “It happened to go in, so that works too.”
The junior added she had noticed the Pioneers were putting a lot of balls in the air around the box and that was her intent. But as they so often do, a planned cross catches that right angle of flight.
“All her crosses all night were going close to the keeper,” Hess said. “They should have been out away from the keeper, so we’re going to have to work on some of that.”
Thanks to one of those crosses, they are getting the practices to do just that.
TCA will lose Sitkowski and Cryan, but returns everyone else on a team that quickly looks to be a contender in Class A going forward. Dennstaedt said she’s going to dearly miss her two seniors, but took plenty from the rest of the performance.
“To make it to the district final is a great accomplishment for us,” Dennstaedt said. “Being able to see a team like Christopher Dock and see them through 78 minutes tied, we know where we stand.”
Dock will face District 12 champion Conwell-Egan in the first round of states Tuesday at a site and time to be determined. For the Pioneers, it’s the next step in what’s become a yearly tradition. It’s a tradition the program’s players take plenty of pride in.
“It’s great, I love the school and my teammates,” Campo said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
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