Westtown – As the Shipley girls’ soccer team warmed up for its Tuesday meeting against host Westtown to decide the Friends’ Schools League champion, the Gator players and coaches knew it was going to take their best effort if they wanted to win their first FSL title since 2010.
With Shipley sophomore goalie Grace Gordon taking control in the halftime huddle, letting her team know there was plenty of game left although the Gators were trailing 1-0, Shipley emerged from the halftime huddle with more pep in their step and it showed, tallying two goals in the second half before holding off a late Westtown charge to emerge with a 2-1 win and the coveted Friends’ Schools League crown.
“We struggled a bit down the stretch and I just told the team they had to play with pride and heart if we were going to win,” said Gator head coach and Shipley alum Dakota Carroll. “I’ve played in playoff games, and I told them whoever wants it more is usually who wins. Our girls showed up today and it was exciting to see them come through when we needed it most.”
Gordon, who finished with nine saves (four from point-blank range), said, “The seniors – Juelle Love and Natalia Joseph- have helped us so much and have led this team and we just wanted to win this game for them. “They have worked hard for four years, not getting the result they have always wanted, so we wanted to make sure they got the result they wanted. We have learned so much from them.”
Early in the game, as the Westtown fans in the crowd began to swell with chants of “Sink the Ship,” the Moose picked up where they left off when they defeated Shipley Oct. 18, as Relly Ladner poked home a loose ball in the crease in the 25th minute to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
Westtown had several other opportunities in the first half, but Gordon came up huge each time to help keep her squad in the match.
In the second half, the Gators’ youth began to show the aggressiveness that the seniors had preached, and were rewarded when freshman Hannah Brainsky was awarded a direct kick just outside the box when she beat a Westtown defender to the ball and was fouled.
Brainsky put a perfect cross into the box on the set piece finding the foot of junior Cami Johnson, who one-timed the ball past the Westtown keeper to level the score.
“I saw a goal before it actually happened,” said Johnson. “I saw the ball come completely to me. I was shocked at first but I knew as soon as it hit my foot it was going in.”
In the 71st minute, Love took the ball at midfield, looked up and chipped the ball over the defender’s head and found Joseph streaking towards the goal. With defenders closing and the goalie coming off her line, Joseph hit a perfect chip over the head of the keeper to give her squad a 2-1 lead.
“When I saw the ball get slotted through I felt like I had plenty of time, and seeing the goalie come out I knew I just had to pop the ball over the goalies head,” said Joseph. “Throughout the season I have gotten nervous in these situations, but I knew I had my whole team and a good part of the school who made the trip behind me, so I knew I just had to relax and good things would happen.”
With the clock winding down, the Moose put consistent pressure on the Shipley net, but it was either the back line or Gordon taking control to prevent Westtown from leveling the match.
With a roster comprised mostly of underclassmen combined with two key seniors, the Gators rallied behind one another saving their best performance for last.
“Our seniors were huge on and off the field this year,” said Carroll. “Both Juelle and Natalia suffered through early season injuries, but once we were able to get them back in the groove, it was big for the younger players, who thrived off their leadership.”