Though very impressive, mere stats alone do not reveal the true beauty of the Villa Jo Marie soccer team. The Jems have won 10 PIAA state titles since 1993. They have lost just once in the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies (AACA) in five years. And they just captured their fifth straight PIAA District One Class AA title by defeating Gwynedd Mercy 1-0 on Nov. 4.
That record certainly proves daunting. Yet, tri-captain Bridget Galen defined the real magic that is Villa Jo.
“It’s a family. We don’t just play for ourselves. We play for each other because we know our teammates want to win. I trust that everyone will do everything they can. We depend on each other. If I’m down or make a bad play they’re there to pick me up. It’s not just playing for yourself but making your teammates look good.”
Having won the PIAA Class AA state title last season, the Jems knew they would have to work even harder in 2015. They had lost such talented veterans as Allie Trzaska, Taylor Stevens and Alexa Fabbri to graduation. Also, everyone else would be gunning to bring the champ down.
As a returning captain, Bridget had faith in the new look Jems.
“A lot of people said we were rebuilding since we lost a bunch of seniors but I think we are just as strong. We have freshmen who came in and replaced the seniors and a lot of people stepped up. Everyone has been playing together as a team. Everyone has been giving it their all, every single game.”
That spirit would have to prevail if Villa hoped to clinch its fifth straight district title. They faced Gwynedd Mercy, the team that dealt the Jems their fist AACA loss in a 3-2 overtime thriller on Oct. 27.
Bridget recognized the challenge awaiting the Jems. “We knew it was going to be a battle. That’s all we kept saying in practice. Make sure you show up ready to play right from the start because we know how much Gwynedd wants to beat us. We beat them 5-1 and they beat us 3-2 in the regular season. It could go either way.”
Part of the Jems’ game strategy dictated playing their brand of smooth and efficient soccer.
“We know their girls are strong and athletic. We said let’s play our game and don’t do what they’re trying to do. Don’t play their game which is very aggressive. We want to play the feet and play our normal game.”
The first half went as expected with both squads engaged in a high tempo, intense match. Villa’s Murphy Agnew had a chance to give her team the lead but her shot sped right into the hands of Gwynedd goalie Payton Morrissey.
Locked in a scoreless tie at half, Villa’s coach Rich Finneyfrock reminded his charges to stay together. “Our coach said did you expect anything different? Did you expect to be winning 3 or 4 to nothing? No one expected that. Finn said we had to attack as a team instead of just kicking to Murphy (Agnew) or Casey (Kilchrist) and hoping they could get a goal without us behind them. We had to push up together and work together to score a goal.”
The big moment came with 17:55 left on the clock. Casey Kilchrist used her speed to put pressure on the Monarch’s back line. She finished off the scoring play finessing a rebound shot by Gwynedd’s goalie, a play earning her captain’s praise.
“I think Erin Kueny kicked it up. It hit off the goalie and Casey put it in for a rebound. She’s always there to get it if the goalie bobbles it. She puts such good pressure on the keepers.”
Villa knew that Gwynedd was not about to surrender without a fight. “We know that right after you score you have to keep the pressure high because it’s too easy to let down. We said we have to stay tough here and not allow Gwynedd to pick up the momentum. We had to stay strong and keep the lead because we worked hard to get it.”
The Jems did just that, staving off several furious Gwynedd rushes. Villa goalie Danielle Samson and defensive mates stood strong in repelling two corner kicks and a penalty shot.
When the final whistle sounded, Bridget could breathe a sigh of relief. “I didn’t want this to be my last game. I was ecstatic. I was so happy. I was nervous going into the game and I was so relieved to get the medal and the trophy. It was so great. Now I have four district championship medals.”
With the district title safely in hand Bridget can reset her sights.. “Last year I remember looking at the scoreboard with ten seconds left and we were up 1-0 (against Villa Maria) and I just started crying because I was so happy that we won the state championship. I want that feeling again. That’s the best feeling.”
Bridget and her Villa Jo ‘family’ begin their quest for keystone gold on Tuesday, Nov. 10.
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