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Goalie platoon changes, but Notre Dame keeps winning

NEWTOWN >> Through seven games and three goals allowed in the 2017 season, Katie Liebeskind and Paige Kieft had platooned in goal for Notre Dame, usually for a half each, in that order.

In Tuesday’s Inter-Ac League tilt with Episcopal Academy, though, Irish coach Adele Williams faced a decision. She went with the freshman Kieft, who would play before halftime for just the second time in her varsity career.

So a ninth-grader playing at a rival in a clash of league frontrunners, that might entail a sizeable dose of pressure, no?

Notre Dame’s Sarah Jane Quigley, right, fires home a goal in the first half of a 2-1 Notre Dame win over Episcopal Academy Tuesday. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

“I’m used to the pressure, but there’s always that nerve-wracking before the game,” Kieft said with a shrug. “But as soon as I put on the helmet and step on to the field, I know what I have to do.”

Kieft’s postgame frankness seemed redundant for the poise she showed over 60 minutes, turning aside seven shots in a 2-1 Notre Dame win. That effort included a pair of denials in the final minute, as Episcopal pushed for an equalizer off a penalty corner with 49 seconds to play.

Kieft would have none of it though, pinning a shot by Katie Crager briefly between her shin pads before kicking it out, then ranging to her right to tie up a shot attempt by Maddie Rehak and allow her defense time to clear the danger. Kieft made a more spectacular save 13 minutes prior, flashing out her right leg to kick aside a shot by Crager off a penalty corner that allowed the Irish (7-0-1, 3-0 Inter-Ac) to cling to their one-goal edge.

All that poise between the posts was no mean feat, particularly for someone so young.

“I remember when I was a freshman, it was definitely nerve-wracking in big games,” junior defender Maggie Pina said. “I remember my game against EA as a freshman, and it was horrible. I felt so nervous. But I trust Paige.

“Paige will always do fine. It doesn’t matter that she’s a freshman; she acts like she’s a senior and she’s always there.”

The time share with Liebeskind was working well: The Irish had allowed just three goals, all in a 3-3 draw against Mount St. Joseph, around six shutout wins. They’d outscored opponents 37-3 prior to Tuesday.

But Kieft’s athleticism and savvy in picking moments to charge off the line aggressively made her the pick for Tuesday’s matchup of traditional Inter-Ac powers.

“It definitely meant a lot that I could come out and prove myself as a ninth-grader,” Kieft said. “Especially at Notre Dame, you get the opportunity. It doesn’t matter what grade you’re in; it just matters your skills, so it meant a lot that I could prove myself during this game.”

Her resolve was tested early in both halves. Episcopal (8-1, 2-1) started quicker out of the gates, earning four penalty corners in the first dozen minutes. Then in the second half, EA halved its deficit within 43 seconds, a Crager reverse sweep on a rush finding Rehak at the post to nudge it past Kieft and in.

But in each half, the Irish weathered the storm. In the first, that process yielded two goals within 48 seconds of game time.

Notre Dame’s Lauren Curran, left, sends a pass beyond the defense of Episcopal Academy’s Kelly Smith Tuesday. Curran scored the first goal in Notre Dame’s 2-1 Inter-Ac League win. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

Lauren Curran started it on a rush spearheaded by Tina D’Anjolell, with the senior carrying down the right wing and centering for Curran to push it past goalie Caroline Kelly with 8:17 left in the first half.

Within a minute, the lead doubled. D’Anjolell laid off a penalty corner from Mia Leonhardt to Sarah Jane Quigley, who smashed it into the back of the cage.

“We have a lot of fast people with skills, so once we get out, we have a lot of opportunities to score,” D’Anjolell said. “We’ve just got to work together as a team, and I feel like our team, we always end up doing that and scoring.”

Kelly kept EA in touch in the second half with a handful of sensational saves, including a double denial of Quigley and Curran in quick succession and a kick save moments later to deny Curran.

“She saves our butts,” Rehak said of Kelly, who had eight saves. “When we’re having really good games or really bad games, she saves us on the field. It’s great to have her on the field.”

Defender Lauren Devletian also contributed a pair of defensive saves for EA, as Notre Dame successfully killed off a pair of second-half cards, successfully killing the clock without getting too passive.

That all led up to the final corner, which got the extra buildup of an Episcopal timeout to talk it over. But for Kieft and company, there was no doubt what was at stake in those final moments.

“It’s the last corner, last play of the game against probably our biggest rivals,” Pina said. “You’ve got to give it all you have, dive on the ball, hit it as hard as you can, run at everyone, stay on your girl — just do everything you can to make sure it doesn’t go in.”

“I definitely knew that that corner was going to count for a lot, and not just for this game but for how the coach saw me and the rest of the team saw me,” Kieft said. “I knew that I had a job to do and I had to do whatever I possibly could to stop the ball.”

Also in the Inter-Ac:

Germantown Academy 3, Agnes Irwin 2 >> Emma van der Veen and Emma Macaione scored in the second half, but the Owls (5-3, 0-2) fell despite seven saves from Paige DiLullo.

In the Catholic Academies League:

Sacred Heart 3, St. Basil 1 >> Julia Flood scored and set up Catie Jordan’s goal, and Hannah Seifried added a first-half penalty stroke as the Lions rolled. Colleen Vizzard stopped two shots for Sacred Heart (5-5, 3-4).

In the Bicentennial League:

Bristol 2, Delco Christian 1 >> Emily Carroll scored in the first half, but it wasn’t enough for the Knights (1-8, 1-6).

In nonleague action:

Interboro 4, Chichester 2 >> Molly Dowling and Ro Murphy scored twice each for the Bucs (3-7), and Sophia Harvey made eight saves. Jenna Schreiber and Lily Bonner added helpers.

Chi’s goals were provided by Alunana Curley and Adrianna Willoughby. Sophia Afamatito made 15 saves.

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