Penalty corners let down Gwynedd Mercy in loss to Merion Mercy

LOWER GWYNEDD — Somehow, the amount of corners accrued by the Gwynedd Mercy Academy field hockey team against Merion Mercy managed to be a source of frustration for both coaches.

The Monarchs racked up 23 penalty corners Tuesday and managed not to score on any of them. Despite dominating across the board statistically, Gwynedd Mercy dropped a 2-1 decision to Merion.

“(Merion) had everybody inside the circle, they packed inside the circle but you need to be prepared for that,’ GMA coach Sue Persichetti said. “We were prepared but they didn’t move the ball around enough and didn’t get to the posts. It was just straight shot after straight shot.’

Merion coach Dani De Leo was happy to leave with a hard-fought win on GMA’s senior day, but yielding 23 penalty corners was a little less encouraging. Even so, Merion had a plan in place and implemented it well.

“I’m pleased, but I’m never satisfied,’ De Leo said. “We’ve got plenty to work on. 23 corners is obscene.’

While neither team seemed on-point to start the game, Gwynedd Mercy did have a spell of sustained pressure early, with senior captain Nicole Catalino taking two shots and the Monarchs winning two corners.

Merion’s first foray deep into GMA’s defensive third also netted the visitor’s first shot and consequently, their first goal. A stroke by Jaime Natale clanged off the post and across the front of the cage, where Emily Hall knocked it in 5:46 into the game.

“This was a good team effort,’ De Leo said. “(GMA) has two game-changers on their field. Gwynedd’s a good team, but they really rely on their two talented, what I call game-changers and we just tried to neutralize that.’

De Leo was referring to Catalino and senior Corrine Persichetti, who combined for the bulk of the Monarchs’ 15 shots on goal, plus a few more tries off-frame.

Merion yielded, with resistance, the middle of the field for Catalino and Persichetti, but the gates closed defensively once they got into the circle.

The two best players on GMA’s roster weren’t going to beat Merion, but they did win a lot of corners.

“(Back) Nellie Doyle did a great job, my goalie Lauren Thomas did a great job,’ De Leo said. “Last time, we made the mistakes and Gwynedd capitalized. This time, I feel like we didn’t get as many opportunities as we wanted, but we put it away when we needed to.’

After a non-credited assist on the first goal, Natale got in the book for a helper when her drop-off pass found Kelly Goggin for a goal with 7:53 left in the first half. Even with a two-goal lead, De Leo reminded her team the game was far from over.

Gwynedd Mercy controlled the rest of the half, drawing six corners and putting three shots on cage over the final seven minutes. The Monarchs just missed a chance when Megan Duvernois’ lift shot lifted a bit too high off a corner with less than 90 seconds left in the half.

“It’s impossible when they have that many people in the circle, but a big problem was executing our corners,’ Sue Persichetti said.

Out of the break, GMA kept up its spell of pressure, drawing three corners and two shots on goal inside the first four minutes. But in spite of the overwhelming set play barrage, the Monarchs got a goal from the run of play.

Catalino dispossessed a Merion player just over the midfield line and wove her way through three defenders into the circle. With all eyes, sticks and attention coming her way, Catalino threaded a ball across the cage to Maddie Meagner, who put it away to halve the lead with 25:27 left in the game.

“I just told them that we knew this was going to happen,’ De Leo said. “We coach them to be able to handle anything. I trust my defense, I just trusted and turned the game over to them. At the end of the day, my games are won in my practices.’

Catalino, who needed only a sliver of space to wriggle free, again got through the mob in the circle and fired a ball to the far post. Duvernois was there, but wasn’t able to redirect the ball in with 11:51 left.

Barely a minute later, GMA had another terrific chance yield nothing when Corrine Persichetti’s shot off a corner drifted a few inches wide.

The Monarchs completed the hat-trick of brutal near-misses with 10:01 left when Kaitlin McCauley’s rocket found the back of the cage, only to have it waved off with the shot coming less than a foot outside the circle.

“This is a team that can easily come back and I was at no point ever comfortable and the great thing is, neither were my kids,’ De Leo said. “We play 0-0 the whole time. It’s not how many goals you put up you just need one more than your opponent.’

The Gwynedd Mercy charge kept coming, but each time, the Merion defense somehow managed to keep the ball from going in the cage. Merion had all but given up on trying to sustain an attack, instead loading bodies behind the ball defensively, and only venturing forward to burn more clock.

Corinne Persichetti had two late shots, but both efforts went right at Thomas’ pads and got booted away. Gwynedd Mercy has been comeback kids plenty of times this season, but playing with that kind of fire too often eventually leads to a negative outcome.

With a smart opponent that had everything it needed fall into its lap, that time happened to be Tuesday.

“We know that, because we do it a lot,’ Sue Persichetti said. “We give a lot of teams that lead. It’s a true testament to their character that they can fight that fight and come back, but you can’t rely on that every time.’

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