BERWYN—Some teams want to get a couple games under their belts before taking on the tough teams. Downingtown West and Conestoga are not among those teams.
Last fall, the Whippets and Pioneers played a doozy of game in the District 1, 3A championship finals, with the Whippets shaking off an early 2-0 deficit to come back with three unanswered goals to claim their first-ever District 1 crown.
Tuesday night at Conestoga, the two teams met for the 2018 field hockey season opener for both teams. Making things more interesting, both teams featured coaches making their debuts with their respective programs. Steph Bullock, who spent a decade at crosstown rival Downingtown East, returned to the field after a two year hiatus, now at the helm at West. For Conestoga, JaJa Kentwell, a striker on the US Men’s National Team and a local club coach for the WC Eagles, takes on the head coaching job.
“It’s great to open up with a team like Downingtown West,” said Kentwell. “They are a very talented, well-coached team and starting with a team like them really lets you know where you stand as a program.”
Once again, the Pioneers grabbed the early lead, but this time around it was four unanswered goals from the Whippets, who headed back to Downingtown with a 4-1 victory.
“The girls have adjusted really well to my style of coaching,” said Bullock. “They are pressuring really well. It’s really fun just to be back. It’s a monster schedule to start the year, but that is only going to help us later in the year.”
The two teams were scoreless for much of the first half, though West seemed to be controlling possession and keeping the ball on its own offensive half of the field.
“I’d say it was probably about 65-35 in their favor,” said Kentwell about keeping possession. “They were very clinical and patient, and just simply got into positions better than we did.”
Regardless, it was the Pioneers that got on the board first. Awarded their first penalty corner of the game, Maia Dechiario put the ball in play on the insert, sending it in to Charlotte de Vries at the top of the circle. de Vries, one of the top high school players in the country, unleashed a bullet to the goalie’s right, banging it hard off the back wood for the game’s first goal.
Unfortunately for the Pioneers, West mostly neutralized de Vries for the remainder of the game.
“We knew coming in how good a player (de Vries) is and we were going to have to work hard to stop her,” said Bullock. “Ciana (Riccardo) really stepped up and did a great job, and got help from quite a few others.”
Just over two minutes after de Vries struck, West tied it when Mia Gaber found Tatum Johnson on the post, and Johnson slammed it home.
“I just got to where I needed to be on the post,” said Johnson, who had a pair of goals on the night. “We work on that goal all the time. I was there, I was ready, and we were all really fired up for this game.”
West took the lead seven minutes later, when Caudia Jascszak scored, with an assist to Celina Riccardo. The Whippets put the game away with a pair of goals by Johnson and Anna Miller in quick succession early in the second half.
Also making her debut for the Whippets was goalie Maddie Nguyen, who stepped up as starter when last year’s Daily Local News All-Area goalie Caitlin Coker opted to skip her semnior year of field hockey to focus on her primary sport, softball. Nguyen proved up to the task after settling in and getting rid of the early jitters.
“I was definitely nervous early, but once the game starts, you kind of just settle in and play,” said Nguyen. “We were all hype for this game. We’ve practiced and worked hard together as a defensive until, and we were all well-prepared for the game.”
Statistically, the game was tight. The Pioneers forced a couple more penalty corners; the Whippets got off a couple more shots. All in all, the game proved to be what both coaches wanted out of a season opener—to see where the program stood and see what areas need work.
“We did a pretty good job attacking,” said Kentwell. “We just have to work on getting to positions more quickly, especially in the circle. We’ll study the tape, and work on the things we need to work on. The Central League schedule starts Friday, and that is always the first goal of the season. This team has won the Central for, I think, six years now. Not winning it would be a step backwards, so that is our first goal.”
Downingtown West 2 2—4
Conestoga 1 0 –1
West—Johnson (2) Jascszak, Miller
Goalie Saves: Nguyen (DW) 4, Todd (CON) 7
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