TOWAMENCIN >> The ball skipped down the touchline, while Marissa Werner charged after it.
Werner and her 13 senior classmates spent most of the night Tuesday flying up and down the pitch under the lights at North Penn as the class celebrated its Senior Night. The Knights made the playoffs when Werner was a freshman but haven’t been back since.
With two weeks left, they’re on the cusp of doing it and thanks to two goals from senior Lauren Ruth, they celebrated Senior Night with a 2-0 win over Quakertown.
“We’ve been playing together since freshman year so we have this kind of unique chemistry we bring to the field that most teams don’t have,” Werner said.
In their second season under head coach Steve Whitby, the Knights have developed an identity as a high-energy, relentless side that will pressure backs and pursue the ball anywhere. They aren’t the biggest squad, but they just fly to the ball.
With the 14 seniors, Whitby couldn’t start them all so he gave them a standing order. If anyone wasn’t playing up to standard, they were coming out and someone was going to fill their place. The game’s first three subs were seniors and the entire class all got plenty of minutes.
“As a team, we have really good chemistry and we’re able to keep the ball better than last year,” senior defender Josie Ruzek said. “We have to work on our shooting a little bit, but that hasn’t stopped us yet.”
North Penn got off to a slow start this year, but the team believes its fortunes changed in a wild come-from-behind 5-4 win over Lansdale Catholic in a downpour early in the campaign. Not only did it set the foundation for a rally mentality that’s defined the side, but it saw the return of senior keeper Ashley Schmidt from an injury.
Schmidt made the play of the game in the first half, going sprawling to the side to save a free header from Quakertown’s Melina Jagiello that kept the game scoreless.
“She makes the saves she should make, they may look miraculous and they’re good because her positioning is good but I expect her to make them,” Whitby said. “We’re not giving her a lot of the ball unless it’s at her feet, so with the ball not being in her hands, it makes those saves even better.”
Ruth lives in North Wales and grew up playing with a lot of her senior classmates, but this is her first season playing for the Knights. A standout at Archbishop Wood the last three years, Ruth came back to North Penn and found a way to fit into the side.
She didn’t start on Tuesday, but provided dangerous chances as soon as she subbed in. Late in the first half, Ruth found herself wide open with a corner kick incoming.
“Grace (Sacchetti) was taking the corner and I raised my hand at her so she knew where I was,” Ruth said. “She hit it back post, no one was on me and I headed it in.”
Sacchetti, a junior, served a great ball to the far post where Ruth rose up and sent a perfect header into the back of the net with 32.4 seconds left on the first half clock.
Ruth added her second goal with just 1.4 left in the game, finishing a long run off a counter by side-stepping the onrushing keeper and ripping the shot home into the net.
Ruzek and Werner said the Knights aren’t going into matches this year with a certain level of confidence where they aren’t overconfident, but believe they’re going to put themselves in a position to come up with a positive result.
“It comes from the motivation on the sidelines,” Werner said. “Our teammates pump us up and keep us ready. You don’t ever think about how tired you are, you know have to keep playing until that scoreboard has something like 5-0 on it.”
The Knights have been pretty good at playing positive balls up the field the season and continuing to work on their connections on the field. With their high work rate, it’s easy for North Penn’s players to find their way into the attack and build chances up the field.
“We’ve focus on not playing flat balls and keeping the ball from the other team because if they don’t have it, they can’t score,” Ruzek said. “On offense, shooting and set pieces are the main things we’ve been working on.”
Whitby said the postseason is his team’s driving focus this year and the Knights have more than held their own in the loaded SOL Continental conference. Just last week, they rallied to beat CB East 2-1, handing the Knights their second win this season over the perennial contender.
“In the beginning we were just trying to get together as a team and it really worked,” Ruzek said. “Now, since we’re in that spot to be in playoffs, we’re focused on staying there and even going higher in the seedings.”
NORTH PENN 1 1 – 2
QUAKERTOWN 0 0 – 0
Goals: NP – Lauren Ruth (Grace Sacchetti), Ruth. Saves: NP – Ashley Schmidt 2, Q – Morgan Sipprell 5
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