Malvern – Coming back from an early 1-0 deficit on top seed Villa Maria’s home turf, Merion Mercy Academy rallied for a 3-2 win in its PIAA District One 2A field hockey tournament semifinal Tuesday.
The fourth-seeded Golden Bears (15-4-2) advance to the district final against No. 2 seed Mount St. Joseph’s Saturday. Villa Maria (17-2) will host No. 6 seed West Chester East Friday in the third-place game, which will help determine state tournament seeding for the Hurricanes.
“Villa Maria’s players are known for their high level of skill and talent,” said Merion Mercy head coach Greta Ehret. “I told our players three things coming into this game – that they’ve got to want it more [than Villa], to have a lot of fun out there, and to believe in themselves deep down.
“They just never gave up today.”
The two teams had met twice during the regular season, Merion Mercy winning the first contest, 2-1, Sept. 6; and Villa Maria prevailing in the second, 5-1, Sept. 27. The 2-1 loss to Merion Mercy two months ago was the only defeat the defending District One champions had suffered coming into Tuesday.
Villa Maria got off to a quick start Tuesday, pushing the ball consistently into enemy territory, getting a goal from forward Hannah Miller 6 1/2 minutes into the game, and holding a 1-0 lead midway through the first half on their home turf.
But the visiting Golden Bears began to rally, tieing the score on a goal by forward and tri-captain Jaime Natale, and never trailing thereafter.
Late in the first half, Merion Mercy midfielder/defender Kelsey Farkas gave the Golden Bears their first lead of the afternoon with a shot from the left corner.
“I was so overjoyed when I saw the ball go in,” said Farkas. “I felt like, at that point, we had a great shot to win the game. Maybe in the first few minutes, we were [hanging back] a little, but then we brought it together, passing the ball to our forwards a lot more, playing with more aggression and a lot of heart.”
Ehret said, “The leadership of our three captains – Jamie Natale among the forwards, Kolbe Keating among the midfielders, and Kelsey Farkas among the defenders – really pulled our team up throughout the game.”
Natale said, “In every huddle today, we just kept telling each other to stay positive, to work as a team.”
With less than two minutes to go before halftime, Villa Maria struck again, this time on a goal from forward Anina Iacobucci (assisted by Lindsay Dickinson) to tie the score at 2-2 at the half.
Midway through the second half, the Merion Mercy forward combination of Allie Scannapieco to Caroline Steller led to another goal for the visitors, as Steller (who had assisted on Natale’s opening goal) took it down the right side and drove it into the corner of the goal.
The 3-2 lead held up against repeated attacks by the Hurricanes in the final minutes. Villa Maria came close to tieing the score in the final minute, taking several close shots at the Merion goal.
Farkas said, “I just kept telling our goalie (Shannon Bedrossian) in the last minute, ‘Just keep it out of the goal, we’ll get the rebound.’”
When the game ended, the Merion players on the bench rushed onto the field to embrace their teammates, then the whole squad walked over to the sidelines to greet their fans and parents.
Villa Maria head coach Daan Polders said, “We made too many mistakes today, too many turnovers. We just didn’t play our game. We didn’t play as a team like we did [in the earlier 5-1 win against Merion]. In the first 8-9 minutes today, we were passing the ball well, moving it well and using the whole field – but later we made it too easy for Merion Mercy.”
Polders praised the persistent efforts of Villa forward Emily Doyle: “She was moving into space well today – she’s always asking for the ball.”