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Nealon-to-Nealon connection has Garnet Valley living the dream

WEST GOSHEN >> Double overtime. Elimination game. Kara Nealon with the ball. Regan Nealon in front, in scoring position. Sudden death.

There it was.

Just as they’d envisioned.

Garnet Valley’s Madi McKee, center, reacts to one of her two first-half goals Saturday. The Jaguars were even more excited after outlasting Conestoga, 11-10, in double overtime in a PIAA Class 3A quarterfinal at West Chester East. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

“That was just crazy,” Kara said. “We practice that in the back yard all the time. All the time. And that was the time to do it.”

So with nearly a lifetime of practice, of dreams, of preparation, of hope for the moment, Kara found her twin sister open in front at 1 minute, 25 seconds of the second three-minute overtime period Saturday, and Regan Nealon deposited the game-winner in an 11-10 PIAA Class 3A tournament victory over Conestoga at West Chester East.

The victory sent the Jaguars (18-7) into the state semifinals Tuesday at a neutral site against Archbishop Carroll. And it left the Pioneers at 21-3 and appreciative of a District 1 championship season.

“They played a great game,” Conestoga coach Amy Orcutt said. “They outplayed us today. We didn’t capitalize on a couple possessions. We hit the pipe four times. But we needed to make a couple more defensive stops that we didn’t make today. And they are a really solid team. I credit them for playing very well.

“We had a great year. A lot to be proud of.”

Kamryn McNeal and Riley Delaney each scored a hat trick for Garnet Valley, with Regan Nealon and Madi McKee providing two goals apiece. Camryn Faith had a goal and an assist. Kara Nealon assisted twice.

Amelia Kienzle and Liz Scott scored three goals each for Conestoga, which received two scores from Cameron Evitts and one each from Nia Scott and Scottie Rose Growney. Growney supplied three assists, Liz Scott two and Evitts one.

No play was bigger than the Nealon-to-Nealon connection midway through the second overtime. One, though, was close. That came with a second left in regulation when McNeal appeared to score, only to have the officials rule that it came after time had expired. A video replay showed the ball entering the net before the horn sounded.

All of which led to the opportunity for the non-identical Nealon twins to extend a season.

“We were planning on holding it until the last 25 seconds,” Regan Nealon said. “But they started pushing out more. So we were going to go for it. My sister had it and she gave me the ball … and it felt really good.”

Garnet Valley goalie Lauren Kinnee makes one of her 10 saves during Saturday’s PIAA Class 3A girls lacrosse quarterfinal. The Jaguars edged Conestoga, 11-10, in double overtime. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

The Jaguars raced onto the field to celebrate, and perhaps, to exhale, as the back-and-forth nature of the game yielded an afternoon of tension. Aware that they’d lost, 13-11, to Conestoga in April, the Jaguars attacked quickly, with McKee scoring twice within the first 1:57. By the time Delaney deposited an eight-meter shot with 18:21 left in the half, the Jags were up, 3-0.

Goals from Kienzle and Nia Scott sandwiched a McNeal goal to draw the Pioneers within 4-2 before Regan Nealon and Evitts exchanged scores. But with 0:06.3 seconds left in the half, Delaney scored from Kara Nealon to give the Jaguars a 6-3 lead and, it seemed, some command.

Yet after Liz Scott and Faith scored early in the second half, Kienzle and Liz Scott scored in quick succession, drawing the Pioneers within a goal. A McNeal score made it 8-6, but the Pioneers scored the next four to grab a 10-8 lead … and the Jaguars’ attention.

“We started off strong, then went down, but we didn’t panic,” Kara Nealon said. “We just forgot about it and scored again.”

With 8:59 left, Delaney’s goal heightened the drama, and McNeal scored from O’Brien with 90 seconds left to create the OT that almost wasn’t. Yet despite the nullification of McNeal’s would-be fourth goal, Garnet Valley remained calm. One reason: Jags goalie Lauren Kinnee had been tough to beat all day.

“When it is down to the last minute and it is tied, it is always a scary thing,” said Kinnee, who provided 10 saves. “But when you have all your defenders around you, you know it’s a good chance that you’ll see it. We had to stick together. When we had that goal called back, we had to make sure it didn’t get to our head, thinking that it should have gone in and we should have won. But we knew we would get it back.”

Garnet Valley controlled the first overtime, but Conestoga goalie Ann Frascella accepted the challenge. Frascella, who made a big save with 3:07 left in regulation, survived a late shot from McKee, and the second overtime was necessary. Again, the Jags took control until Nealon and Nealon did what they’d been practicing for as long as they could remember.

“We have had a lot of goals and assists with each other,” Regan said, “but this was the biggest one.”
The connection is natural … and special.

“Definitely,” Regan said. “Just with the amount of practice that we have had together, we know how the other is playing. If she has the ball, I know where to cut, because I know she will be looking for me. And if she is cutting, I will be looking for her.”

They will be looking for each other in the semifinals.

“We have grown up together playing lacrosse,” Kara Nealon said. “My dad (Denny Nealon) played lacrosse at Navy. So I feel like I have always had a stick in my hand. And we practiced that so many times in the back yard. Then it happened.

“It’s just surreal. Honestly.”

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