ROYERSFORD >> You’ve probably never seen a game-winning celebration like this.
There was Kylee MacLeod down on the turf, a look of agony on her face with teammates all around, smiles turning to looks of concern.
The Owen J. Roberts senior midfielder knew she’d connected with the header, but right now all she could think about was the shooting pain in her calf.
“As soon as I hit it off my head my leg cramped,” MacLeod said. “I’m on the ground and the first thing I asked was, ‘Did it go in?’”
MacLeod may have been the last to know, but that was no problem as the Owen J. Roberts girls soccer team continued its unbeaten start to the season with a 1-0 overtime victory at Spring-Ford in what has become the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s marquee matchup.
Owen J. Roberts, the defending PAC champion who reached the PIAA Class 4A semifinals a year ago, is off to an impressive 8-0 (4-0 PAC Liberty) start. Spring-Ford fell to 3-2 (2-1) but presented a real challenge for the Wildcats despite having so many new faces after last year’s senior-stacked squad.
MacLeod’s header from a Bailey Hunt corner kick lofted perfectly over Spring-Ford goalkeeper Riley Wallace (five saves) and into the top left corner of goal with 11.8 seconds remaining in the first overtime period.
“I’m ecstatic. I can’t believe that just happened with 11.8 seconds to go,” Hunt said. “I knew we were going to win, I just had that feeling.”
Hunt has been on a scoring tear so far this season while making the most of her increased playing time as a senior. It’s impossible to replace the output of PAC scoring queen Mahogany Willis (37 goals last season), but Hunt is certainly doing her part in the front three with Sarah Kopec and Hannah Delahaye.
“I’m just so happy I can do it with my team,” Hunt said. “It’s people I’ve grown up playing with so it’s been wonderful.”
Indeed, much of the OJR first XI plays on the same club team, the West-Mont United Magic, including Hunt, MacLeod, Mia Baumgarten, Gretchen Harken and Kenzie Milne.
MacLeod, arguably the best returning player in the PAC who is headed to Kutztown, got a valuable experience over the summer on another team, the Lehigh Valley Tempest. The Tempest play in the Women’s Premier Soccer League and features mostly college players looking to stay sharp in the summer months.
“That was scary,” MacLeod said of the introduction to the Tempest’s level of play. “You come in and are against these brutes. You get hit and get hit and it’s just a level of speed that I try to carry here. It’s incomparable.”
The Wildcats may have been the ones headed home happy, but Spring-Ford, under new coach Mo Hadidi, carried a real threat to put a tally in OJR’s loss column. Ella Curry, Hope Flanegin, Devin Rawley and Molly Thomas led things on the attack.
“It’s a young group compared to the last bunch of years where it was all seniors,” Hadidi said. “We’re trying players without experience but they really work together and there’s no bad feelings about who misses or who didn’t. They work and give each other motivation.”
Spring-Ford has more to figure out with not nearly as much continuity as Monday’s opponent.
“When you play three or four years together you understand every single step and know each other as a group,” Hadidi said. “But I like what I see. We have things to work on, but we’ll come back stronger.”
After OJR’s Hunt played a pair of dangerous crosses in the opening minutes of the game, chances were at a premium throughout. The Wildcats did not put enough shots on frame while the Rams needed a bit more connection in the final third. Their best chance came when Ally McVey carried the ball down the right side, passed across goal and found Rawley, who struck a good shot that was saved by OJR keeper Samantha Hughes (six saves) with 12:30 remaining in regulation.
Yet it only takes one chance and there was no one better than OJR’s new undisputed leader.
“When (last year’s seniors) left, they said, ‘This is your team now,’” MacLeod said. “This is what I came to do, what I’ve always wanted which is to win. And to do it with people you care about is a great feeling. When I’m on the field I don’t think about who we lost, it’s about who we have.”
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