MARPLE >> With every year that goes by, Katie Capalbo finds herself going further and further away from the opposing net.
When she was a freshman, Capalbo was a forward, and a year later, she moved to attacking midfield. A year later, she was on the move again, this time to a defensive midfield role.
For the first time in her career, Capalbo is playing in the same spot in back-to-back seasons, and it looks like the stability is paying big dividends for Strath Haven. Monday, she helped keep defending Catholic League champion Cardinal O’Hara at bay, while Olivia Fender set up three first-half goals, as the Panthers edged the Lions, 3-2.
Playing defensive midfield yields a wealth of subtle intricacies that not everyone picks up on, but a lights-out defensive midfielder is invaluable to any team. Carly Reid’s Panthers have a good one on their hands. It’s not the most glamorous of roles, and not everyone would be so willing to move from a scoring role to a defensive one, but it’s something that Capalbo gladly accepted.
“I can see the field so much better, and I realized how important my role is in dispensing the ball to my teammates,” Capalbo said. “It’s not all about getting the name recognition. It’s all about getting the pass. The toughest part is just getting back on defense and just staying in position. You want to move with the play, but when the defense gets it, you have to get back. It’s a lot of running.”
Being the defensive standout for the Panthers (3-1-1) has its perks, but Capalbo admitted that there is the occasional longing for a crack at offensive glory. She can get some chances here and there, particularly on corners, but it’s not quite what she used to do on the forward line.
“I miss it a little bit. I miss hitting the ball as hard as I can at the net, but I still get to do that every once in a while,” Capalbo said. “I think (the move) was just that my coaches saw that I could keep my head up when I was passing, and in the center of the defense, you really have to be able to look up and dispense the ball to your teammates. I’ve just been playing the position for so long — I play there for indoor field hockey — that I kind of just got used to it.”
Trailing 3-1, the Lions got a goal from Grace Hussey with 3:25 to go to get to within one. O’Hara then got one final chance when it was awarded a corner with no time left on the clock, but Fender broke it up to seal the Panthers’ triumph.
“Our goalie (Kay Walker) grouped us together and said, ‘guys, we’ve got to get this out right now and we have to stay focused,’” Fender said. “I usually fly up past (Capalbo) and I had a feeling that it was going to be a quick shot, so I went to the right to anticipate it and it came right to me. I anticipated and it could have gone wrong, but I’m happy it didn’t.”
In the first half, Fender was all about the offensive game. The younger sister of former Strath Haven football and basketball standout John Fender, connected with McKenzie Raech early and doubled it up when she found Emily Raech. Katie Shallow temporarily slowed down the Panthers’ momentum with a gorgeous goal, but Fender set up the Emily Raech again to give Haven all the offense it needed.
“I was surprised (at the quick start) because this is always a tough game,” Fender said. “We were kind of controlling the first half because we were on offense all the time and just getting our shots, which was really nice.
For O’Hara, it was a good test against a quality nonleague opponent before the Lions truly dig into Catholic League play. New Lions coach Mo Boston knows that O’Hara has a big target on its back as the defending PCL champion, but the Lions might be up to the task.
“This gives us a good feel for what we can do better as a team,” Shallow said. “It doesn’t really matter if you lose or win (a nonleague game), we just see what our team has to work on before games like Prendie and Carroll.”
That’s the barometer in the Catholic League.
In other nonleague action:
Sun Valley 3, Chichester 1 >> Erin Nearey was absolutely unstoppable for the Vanguards, netting a pair of first-half goals and potting another in the second half as Sun Valley topped the Eagles.
Jayme McIlhenney set up both of Nearey’s first-half tallies. Jaclyn Prince denied 10 shots. Rizza Moindos scored Chichester’s lone goal.
Academy Park 1, Conwell-Egan 0 >> Kelsey Weber was the hero for the Knights as she finished a Riley Street pass on a penalty corner in overtime to give Academy Park (1-2) its first win of the season.
Taylor Zane stopped three shots for the Knights.