NEWTOWN SQUARE — It’s emblazoned on buildings, on websites, on wherever else Episcopal Academy can put the credo. Education there focuses on three central tenets: Mind, Body, Spirit.
In practical terms, that motto positions athletics as a means to educate, on and off the fields of competition. Few have embodied that to the same degree as Olivia Dirks.
There hasn’t been a high school season where Dirks hasn’t been involved in some kind of sport. In the fall, it’s soccer, where she was the Daily Times Girls Player of the Year as a senior, leading EA to a Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association title. Over the winter, it’s basketball. And the spring brings lacrosse, the sport she’ll play at Penn State.
“Each season is a different experience, but every season I’ve loved playing here for EA,” Dirks said. “I think playing multiple sports at EA has helped me become an even better player in each sport. Translating into basketball from lacrosse, it really helps with your footwork, and soccer obviously, a lot of agility is involved with that, and each different coach has helped me along the way. They’ve all come together and made me the best player I think I can possibly be in high school.”
The numbers this spring are hard to argue with. Dirks scored 82 goals, fifth-most in Delco. She added 18 assists to finish with an even 100 points, tied for 10th in the county. And her prowess on the center circle was unmatched: 186 draw controls, a total that most players would be thrilled to have in a career, accumulated in just 19 games, to go with 19 groundballs and eight caused turnovers.
The two-way dominance by the All-America has, for the second time this academic year, earned her a Player of the Year honor.
Joining Dirks on the first team is EA teammate Izzy Rohr; the Agnes Irwin duo of Emily Wills and Natalie Pansini; Notre Dame’s Maggie O’Brien and Claire Gola; Garnet Valley sisters Kara and Regan Nealon; Springfield’s Alyssa Long and Belle Mastropietro; Radnor’s Cate Box and Phoebe Proctor; and Archbishop Carroll’s Madison Henry.
Dirks, Regan Nealon, Mastropietro, Cox and Rohr are each making their second All-Delco appearances. A stellar senior class shines with 10 spots, with Long, Proctor and Pansini representing the junior class. The All-Delco team is selected in consultation with area coaches.
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It seems distant now, but there was some uncertainty for Episcopal Academy entering the spring. Even with massive talents like Rohr and Dirks back plus a slew of talented underclassmen, they faced the challenge of replacing eight senior contributors from last year. There was some question as to just what EA had and how the pieces would assemble.
Then there was a schedule complication: Episcopal moved one of its academic programs, now called May Term, from January to the spring. It’s a two-week immersion opportunity, either via travel or an intensive study project. With a critical mass of players enrolled, the Churchwomen made the decision not to compete in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament at season’s end.
Both doses of adversity drew the best out of EA. As seniors, Dirks and Rohr took on greater leadership responsibilities, something both embraced.
“Me and Izzy are the best of friends, so it was actually really easy and a really fun time for us to lead the team together,” Dirks said. “We tried our best to have everyone be united and come together and be a really strong team this year.”
The lack of a PAISAA capper to the season bred a sense of urgency. EA and rival Agnes Irwin have gone back and forth the last four years between the league and postseason. Agnes Irwin got the last laugh last season by winning the tournament after the teams split the league crown. The previous two years, one of the pair has won the Inter-Ac only for the other to claim PAISAA.
Without that chance at the end of the season — be it for redemption or outright supremacy — every game assumed new importance.
“We knew going into every game that we had to play like it was a championship game because we wanted to win the Inter-Ac, and obviously we didn’t have the chance to go into PAISAA,” Dirks said. “So we played every game like it was the last game of the season. We just pushed ourselves every single game to try to do that.”
The proof was all around Dirks, as the Churchwomen won their first 18 games, only a stumble in the finale at Penn Charter after they’d claimed the league title spoiling an undefeated season. Rohr helped young players like Jayne Morley become stars. With Dirks orchestrating the attack, Caroline Burt turned into a 100-point scorer, one of 11 in the county.
Dirks showed the urgency from the get go. She fired seven goals to beat Bel Air in Maryland, a feat replicated against Germantown Academy. In a big one-week stretch in early April at Notre Dame and Agnes Irwin, Dirks combined for 12 goals and three assists to defeat the teams that would finish directly behind them in the standings. When EA beat Agnes Irwin for a second time April 30, a one-goal victory in which Dirks had three goals and two assists, Dirks finally acknowledged something special was brewing.
“I think after we beat them the second time in overtime, we kind of knew,” Dirks said. “We were like, ‘let’s go, we can do this, we’ve got it. This is our year to win the Inter-Ac.’”
Dirks leaves behind a slew of records and accolades, one of the more accomplished multi-sport athletes at a school known for producing them. But she hopes that the legacy isn’t just in the tangible realm, the plaques and trophies, but in an example she’s tried to pass on to those younger than her.
“I’m so honored I’ve been able to do what I’ve been able to do here,” she said. “I hope I’ve helped the kids here have someone to look up to and have pushed them to want to play multi sports and be a great athlete. I can’t thank all my teammates enough for helping me, too. So I hope I’ve left a great legacy here.”
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