FALLS TOWNSHIP – After capturing a District 1 Class AAA championship and making states in 2014, last fall was a tough season on the pitch for the senior crop of girls soccer players at Pennsbury.
Playing without the services of All-Suburban One National League standouts Riley Rudd, Caroline Foley and Kelly Ann Amador, who were injured in the offseason, the Lady Falcons didn’t let adversity stand in their way.
The girls went out and grabbed a third consecutive SOL National Conference title, going 11-1 in the league to outpace archrival Neshaminy by a half-game.
“Ever since we won districts and had a really good run in states my sophomore year, we wanted to repeat that ,” said 2016 first team All-SOL National midfielder Meredith Webber. “But every season, it’s been a journey so I’ve had to adjust my game each year.”
Next season, Webber may have to make another big adjustment in her game, which she is taking to the University of Maryland at Baltimore County (UMBC).
While Webber also looked at Loyola and Bucknell, she visited UMBC this time last year and made up her mind in an instant.
“I just knew that’s where I wanted to go,” she said.
Webber has been recruited as a midfielder for the Retrievers, who went 6-10-1, overall, 2-5-1 in the America East Conference in 2016, the team’s first season in three campaigns that it did not make it into the AE Tournament.
UMBC is guided by fifth-year head coach Leslie Wray, who took a winless team in 2011 and led it to an America East title and a berth in NCAAs in 2013.
Webber knows a little about guiding a team through adversity.
Without Rudd, Foley and Amador in the lineup, Webber had to play much more of an attacking role last season. With 3-0 wins over D-1 qualifiers Council Rock South and CR North and a 9-0 triumph over SOL National rival Truman, Pennsbury cemented its unlikely third straight league trophy.
The Falcons even blanked D-1 semifinalist Conestoga 1-0 before entering the postseason on a roll. In districts facing No. 15 seed Boyertown, it was Webber who scored 16 minutes in for the game’s only goal. Unfortunately, Pennsbury wouldn’t score again in 2016 after a pair of 1-0 losses to CB South and Downingtown East ended its season.
“The injuries were a huge blow to us in the preseason when we found out,” admitted Webber. “After that, we knew it was going to be a different journey.
“I think we took advantage of that but we just couldn’t finish, in the end.”
Still, this group of Falcons was among the top eight in the state in 2014 and made it to the District 1 quarterfinals the following season.
“I was fortunate every year to at least make a difference in our league and districts and I think we did that really well,” said Meredith.
What’s more, good fortune found Webber in the summer months when she played annually for the YMS Xplosion girls soccer club. After falling in the finals of the US Youth Soccer National Championships in each of the last three seasons, Xplosion rallied from a two-goal deficit to defeat Beach FC Academy (Cal-South) 3-2, in extra time in last year’s final.
Two of the goals including the game-winner came from Villa Jo Marie senior Murphy Agnew, who hails from nearby Holland.
“That game was sheer willpower,” exclaimed Webber. “Coming back from 2-0, I don’t even have words to describe it.
“It was amazing. It was everything that we worked for and it meant so much that we made it after three years. Because three years losing in the championship really takes a toll on you.”
At YMS, Webber had help from classmate Abby Johnson, who is also taking her game to the next level. A left back and left wing, Johnson plans to play next season at Southland Conference rival Southeastern Louisiana University.
Due to some persistent knee injuries, Johnson could not come out to play high school soccer, however. But she played both left back and left wing for the Xplosion team.
Last May, YMS captured the Eastern Pennsylvania State Cup with a 4-0 shutout win over Penn United Force FC ‘98 at the United Sports Complex in Bradford, Pa. The girls posted previous wins in the tourney over HMMS Eagles United ‘98 and LDC Galaxy ‘98.
At the Region I Championships, Xplosion recorded a 3-0 shutout win over Loudoun 98 Red, of Virginia, a 6-1 triumph over WVFC 98 Black, of West Virginia, and a 2-2 draw with WNY Flash Academy, of New York.
“It’s been amazing being on that team,” said Johnson. “We’ve just had so many victories.
“We’re like a family so we always find a way to pull through. Losing in national champs the last three years has been so discouraging.
“Finally, the fourth year was the jackpot.”
In addition to Southeastern Louisiana, Johnson had received interest from American, Charleston Southern, South Carolina, Philadelphia, and Francis Marion. With four scholarship offers on the table it was a tough choice. She thought American was going to be her next tour of duty on the pitch, until she went to visit the Lady Lions of Louisiana.
“I really didn’t have any expectations when I went down there; it was one of the last schools I looked at,” she said. “I fell in love with the place; I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.
“It just felt like the right place for me.”
Senior midfielder Kelly Ann Amador is also taking her game to college. She was one of the three former starters including Rudd and Foley who could not come out for their senior campaigns.
“It was tough, especially because we had done so well the last couple years,” said Kelly Ann. “It was our last chance to get as far as we could.
“But the girls pulled off another SOL title – they had another run.”
Amador was also looking at Columbia, University of Maryland and Indiana but picked George Washington because of her interest in international affairs.
On the boys side, forward Zach Lobasso is taking his high-energy soccer game to Old Dominion after attracting interest from both Georgetown and Saint Joseph’s.
Last fall, Lobasso was among the points leaders in Lower Bucks with 16 goals and 10 assists. He tallied 38 goals and 23 assists in three-and-a-half years on the varsity team. Lobasso also plays club soccer at YMS, toiling in the summer sun for the Premier 98 Inferno
Additionally, Pennsbury senior Olivia Herman made public her commitment to Fordham rowing. A coxswain for both the 4-man and 8-man varsity boats at the PNRA Mercer Rowing Club, Herman also had interest from University of Pennsylvania, GW, LaSalle and Lehigh.
Herman competed recently in the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta held the first week in August in Saint Catherines, Ontario.
TOP PHOTO: Five student-athletes from Pennsbury High School announced their commitment to collegiate athletics at a ceremony held Monday, Feb. 13 at PHS West. Pictured, from left: Olivia Herman, Kelly Ann Amador, Zach Lobasso, Abby Johnson and Meredith Webber.
(Steve Sherman – 21st-Century Media)