EAST WHITELAND — For the countless yards she had run Tuesday night, Danielle Simister’s legs could have let her crumple to the turf at Great Valley when the final whistle blew. But instead of hitting the ground when time was called on a 1-0 loss in the District 1 Class 4A girls soccer tournament, Simister and her teammates walked off together, defiance overwhelming the creeping sadness on their faces.
Tuesday wasn’t the ending that the Green Raiders had hoped to author, an own goal paying off the Patriots’ one-way traffic in the first half before Ridley gamely but fruitlessly battled to even the scales. For Tuesday’s ouster will be just a footnote on the larger headline for a group of 10 seniors who piloted the Green Raiders to their first district playoff berth.
“We’re super proud of ourselves, and we’re still a little upset,” Simister said. “But tomorrow, we’ll be like, ‘we made history.’ And we’ve got that to remember the rest of our lives.”
Despite the result, the effort was quintessentially Ridley (11-7-1). The No. 18 seed weathered waves of pressure early by Great Valley, the 15th seed that advances to take on No. 2 Conestoga in Thursday’s second round. After pinning the Green Raiders back for most of the first half without a shot on target, the first effort proved enough, with a twist.
Emma Gray played a textbook 1-2 with Veronica Yonce, the right winger gaining the end line and crossing to Gray. The shot from Gray beat goalkeeper Sydney Zimmerman, slammed the post, then deflected off an unaware Zimmerman into the net.
Officially an own goal, it was a cruel reward for beautiful buildup play through Yonce, who left the game soon after with a leg injury.
“It’s a really good aspect of our team,” Gray said of Yonce. “She really pushes the outside defenders. She gets by her, plays it and then it’s like one of our most successful plays.”
After that concession, though, play evened out. Great Valley (13-5-1) still had the better of the attack, forcing six saves from Zimmerman while Ridley placed two shots on target. The determination to keep getting stuck in against a team more skilled position-by-position epitomizes Ridley’s work ethic.
“I said to pick it up, it’s not over, it was only the first half, and I said, ‘we’ve got this,’” senior captain Anna Charitonchick said. “As long as we play our game, we turned it around in the second half but unfortunately we couldn’t finish.”
“Usually we start out flat in the beginning and we pick it up,” Simister said. “I think the second half, we picked it up 10 times better. We tried and we gave all we could.”
Great Valley scores! Pretty sure it’s an own goal. Emma Gray’s shot hits the post then off a defender. Great 1-2 with Veronica Yonce. pic.twitter.com/WLjnALxNY0
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) October 23, 2018
That effort is melded with plenty of talent. Sophomore Ericka Kitzinger threatened on a couple of runs down the left wing, and her replacement Jess Lefkof forced a diving save from Lauren Birchler late in the first half, though the GV keeper had it covered. The best chance may have fallen at the feet of Theresa Simister in the second half, sneaking in at the back post on a cross from the left wing. But GV left back Jenny Osinski flew in with a perfectly timed block of the volley.
Similarly, Great Valley’s control of the midfield afforded what seemed like two dozen instances where the final pass was just inches away. But each time, a Ridley foot would appear in the passing lane or a Ridley shoulder would apply just enough pressure to affect the play.
“They were pressuring us,” Gray said. “They knew how we played a little bit. They knew some of our corners and our through balls in general, and they knew how to stop them most of the time.”
So it was afterward that Ridley coach Ron Nevin convened two huddles in the final breakdown. The first addressed the seniors, offering gratitude for their contributions, the second explaining to the underclassmen how expectations have been forever changed.
“I know that Ridley girls soccer was not necessarily the best program at Ridley,” Charitonchick said. “And the fact that we turned it around and became the first team ever to make District 1 playoffs was a huge accomplishment, in my book.”
Also in the District 1 Class 4A tournament:
Penncrest 4, Hatboro-Horsham 0 >> Sarah Hughes scored twice, and Julianna George and Kara Mullaney added goals as the 20th-seeded Lions found an offensive spark to spring an upset of the No. 13 Hatters.
Bryn McLaughlin kept the clean sheet for Penncrest (8-5-4), which gets No. 4 Central Bucks West Thursday night.
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