WHITEHALL>> How long ago was 1977?
It was so long ago, that the 77-year-old bus driver who escorted Twin Valley’s field hockey team to Saturday’s PIAA Class AA championship match against Villa Maria Academy at Whitehall High School was a 39-year-old head coach then.
Why is this relevent? Because that bus driver, Marty Hassler, was the head coach of Twin Valley’s 1977 state champion softball team, the only other team sport state champion in school history — until Saturday.
Twin Valley scored a pair of first-half goals, then added needed insurance late, to stun defending state champ Villa Maria Academy 3-1 and win the first state title in program history — the first of any kind at the school since that long ago spring of ’77.
Villa Maria Academy, from Malvern, entered as the unbeaten District 1 champions at 21-0-1.
It will be a moment long be remembered in Elverson. These kind of things don’t exactly happen often. As if caught in a surreal dream, the reaction of Raiders players, coaches and fans after the final horn reflected that.
“The feeling is … oh my gosh, it’s … awesome. Indescribable,” Raiders head coach Kim Walsh, TV Class of ’03, said as her brain searched for the proper description. “We came into this game and we were just so happy to be here, but we really didn’t want that to get to us. It took us a couple of minutes to settle in, you could tell. We were a bit taken aback by everything.
“They’re (VMA) an awesome team. They were the reigning state champs. We knew we’d really have to play hard to win against a team of that caliber.”
Once the butterflies wore off, the Raiders went about attacking Villa Maria after they withstood an opening flurry of pressure from the Hurricanes, which led to a trio of corners. TV was able to fend off the threat without surrendering a shot on keeper Gina Gatto.
Twin Valley (27-2) unexpectedly popped the seal at the other end with 18:34 to play in the first half. Riley Knapp’s shot from about six yards out found its way cleanly past VMA goalie Danielle Acuna for a 1-0 lead.
But it was TV’s second goal, coming from Maryland-bound senior leading scorer Kelee Lepage, that announced these proceedings were indeed, no fluke. The Raiders took advantage of a green card issued a VMA player by ratcheting up the pressure late in the half. It resulted in a corner, from which Lepage shot through a pile of legs from 15 yards out and into the cage.
Suddenly, with 3:44 to play until halftime, the underdogs had a 2-0 lead.
“That second goal went in and it was like, ‘This is us. We’re playing our game. We can do this’,” Walsh said.
It was Lepage’s 48th goal of the season. The Raiders wouldn’t have been here without her.
“That’s when we start to play our best hockey, when we get those first couple of goals,” Lepage said. “I’ve worked hard for it but I couldn’t do this without my team. I know I have to be able to execute and help our team out. This is just amazing.”
Despite holding a 2-0 lead coming out of the break, the Raiders knew the Hurricanes would throw everything at them during the final 30 minutes. That began to happen almost immediately, when Megan Vermeil — the granddaughter of Philadelphia Eagles coaching legend Dick Vermeil — scored a scant 57 seconds into the second half to shave it to 2-1.
But cohesive defensive coverage and some fine stickwork by the Raiders, in response, prevented Villa Maria from building off whatever momentum Vermeil’s goal provided.
Kendra Jones sealed it with 9:51 remaining for Twin Valley. She deflected a shot in the circle for TV’s third marker and a 3-1 lead.
“I still can’t believe this has happened,” Jones said. “I couldn’t have been more blessed.”
All that was left was the countdown to history. Walsh was asked how they pulled it off.
“We’ve played all season with passing as our number one priority,” she replied, “and I think that was what helped. You can have a solid team, but when you can pass the ball the ball, the (opposing) players can’t get stuff done if you’re constantly moving around them. That’s what we did here.
“I love The Valley. I bleed Green and White. So to do this, it’s just awesome.”
PIAA AA championship
at Whitehall HS
Twin Valley 3, Villa Maria Academy 1
VMA – 0 1 — 1
TV – 2 1 — 3
TV – Riley Knapp, 18:34
TV – Kelee Lepage, 3:34
VMA – Megan Vermeil, 19:03
TV – Kendra Jones, 9:51
Shots on goal
TV 6, VMA 3
TV 7, VMA 8
TV (Gina Gatto) 2, VMA (Danielle Acuna) 3
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