RADNOR — Gina Buggy has experienced a lot since she became varsity field hockey coach at Episcopal Academy in 1986, two years after she was a member of the American field hockey team which won the bronze medal in the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
“Before today we haven’t had a game decided like that,” Buggy said at Bryn Mawr College Tuesday afternoon after EA outlasted top-seeded Germantown Academy in a shootout, 2-1, to earn its second Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association championship in four years.
The teams were tied, 3-3, after playing two halves and a 15-minute extra period, so 10 players and two goalies were given the responsibility of deciding which team would earn the title in a one-on-one shootout-style format similar to the way NHL teams finish games.
Seniors Gianna Pantaleo and Maddie Rehak finished their shootout scoring chances with goals for EA, while senior Caroline Kelly frustrated four of the five GA shooters she faced as Episcopal claimed its first post-season crown since beating Agnes Irwin in 2015 at Bryn Mawr.
“When I (recently) found out that that’s how the game could be decided, I told them we’d have to work through this,” Buggy said. “Halfway through the season we began to really play well together as a team.
“Last week we went through a lot with Spirit Week, our semifinal game against Notre Dame, and our game with Agnes Irwin before the football game (vs. Haverford School). We came back this week and regrouped and were ready to go after it today.”
Practice was shorter and less intense at Episcopal Monday as the time for the championship game grew near. It gave Buggy a chance to let her players get some needed rest, and it allowed her to celebrate her birthday with dreams of a title dancing in her head.
Those dreams appeared as if they would be coming true when EA’s Maddie Rehak scored the only goal of the first half Tuesday, and Macy Szukics added to the lead in the first minute of the second.
Germantown Academy, which earned a victory and a tie with Episcopal when the teams met during the regular season, put things in the hands of Princeton University recruit Sammy Popper, who needed just under 13 minutes to complete a natural hat trick and put the Patriots ahead.
Just as the cheering from the GA fans following Popper’s third goal died down, it was the EA fans letting out a roar as Szukics came down the field and lifted the ball into the goal cage.
Episcopal Academy, which was not awarded a penalty corner in regulation time, picked up four in the 15 minutes of overtime. Germantown Academy goalie Olivia McMichael was up to the challenge of the five shots she faced.
In the shootout, McMichael made a save and a clear on the first two shots she faced. EA goalie Kelly dove out on her first save but couldn’t get to the ball on the second try, giving the Patriots’ Catherine McPeddan plenty of open space to get a goal.
Pantaleo lifted the next shot over McMichael.
“I saw the way their goalie was following the ball,” Pantaleo, who will play at Boston University, said. “I knew if she dropped, I wanted to get around her and get off the shot.”
Kelly continued her challenging style of play and kept GA from scoring on its third and fourth attempts.
“I could see the way they were trying to shoot and knew what I had to do to stay with them,” Kelly, who also is headed to Boston University, said. “I just wanted to stay on the ball and then get it out (of the scoring circle).”
Rehak was the last of Episcopal Academy’s players to take a turn in the shootout. She outwaited McMichael’s dive and found an open cage waiting for the ball.
“I knew what she had done when she defended our other players,” Rehak, a Bucknell commit, said. “I went to the left, pulled the ball back to the right, and after I made my move I shot the ball by her.”
After the postgame hugs and handshakes, there were medals to be accepted and pictures to pose for before the EA players gathered their belongings for the trip home. Kelly had a special something to take away from an EA game for the final time.
“My 2015 championship game jacket is over there,” she said, pointing to her equipment bag, which sat beside the team bench. “I guess now it’s time to start thinking about getting another jacket.”
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