RED HILL>> All through the offseason, the Owen J. Roberts field hockey team heard it all.
“‘We graduated too many seniors from last year’s team, we had too many holes to fill on our offense,’” recited sophomore Natalie Fuertsch. “They said a lot of things about our team.”
Yet the Wildcats never once listened to any of it.
On Thursday night, Owen J. Roberts silenced all of its critics, taking a 2-1 victory in the Pioneer Athletic Conference Championship game against Upper Perkiomen at Indians Stadium.
After graduating eight starters from last year’s PAC Championship and state playoff team, the Wildcats turned to only a small handful of players with varsity experience this past summer leading up to the season. With a roster of just three seniors, the team was determined to follow in the footsteps of those before them, capturing the program’s first back-to-back titles since they captured three consecutive from 2009-2011.
“We wanted to win this so bad,” said Fuertsch, who scored OJR’s opening goal seven minutes into the second half on a penalty stroke. “It was up to all of us. We knew that we had what it took to prove everyone wrong.”
That proof ultimately came during the second half.
OJR (10-2-1 PAC; 14-5-1 overall) completely dominated the possession in the final 30 minutes, keeping Upper Perk (12-1; 17-3) out of the scoring circle until eight minutes remained in regulation. During that run prior, the Wildcats posted six corners and six shots on goal, junior Bridget Guinan’s score off a cross from Riley Hansen proving to be the game-winner.
“Riley hit it across to me from the opposite post and I had an open goal,” she said. “We just came out and knew we didn’t have anything to lose. We wanted to leave everything out on the field.”
From that point, the Wildcat offense was firing on all cylinders.
“Once we got the lead, I think everyone was feeling confident,” said Guinan.
“We started to look for one another and connect on our passes,” said OJR head coach Amy Hoffman. “We were just kind of following Upper Perk’s lead during the first half, which wouldn’t work for us. I’m really proud of the way they played, especially coming back in the second half.”
A second half that was so thrilling, so fulfilling for the OJR sideline turned out to be so disappointing, such a let-down for head coach Jamie Warren and the Tribe.
“We started losing steam in the beginning of the second half,” said Warren, “then we slowly let it get away from us. I mean, this is a championship game and you’ve gotta play like a championship team. I don’t think we did that during the second half.
“We didn’t connect as a team. We were struggling to get any sort of sequence going.”
Upper Perk had two shots on goal — both during the opening half. Hope Flack registered UP’s lone goal, capping a corner try off a feed from AiYi Young a shade under five minutes before the halftime buzzer sounded.
After finally taking over possession and starting to create its last few chances, Upper Perk began to put the pressure on in the closing two minutes.
But it proved too little, too late.
The Tribe was awarded a penalty corner after time expired, but it was neutralized by the OJR offense just seconds before the on-field celebration ensued.
The celebration that almost no one saw coming. Well, no one except the Wildcats themselves.
“I think we showed everyone what we knew we were capable of all along,” said Fuertsch.
Tentatively, Owen J. Roberts will be the No. 11 seed in next week’s District 1 Class AAA playoffs. The Wildcats are set to face No. 22 seeded Pennsbury Monday.
“I think this will definitely help us for districts,” said Hoffman. “They still would have come out and play hard on Monday, but winning this will definitely help out our momentum.”
Upper Perkiomen will get some time to rest, claiming the No. 5 seed. With play-ins taking place Monday, the Tribe will open up against Kennett (No. 12 seed) on Wednesday.