All-Delco: Hard work made Tornetta the best

RADNOR — Sophia Tornetta used to notice something when her older sister, Olivia, would come home from field hockey camp in the summer.

“She was always smiling, and I could tell she liked it,’ Tornetta said. “I knew that was something I wanted to try, and when I did I fell in love with field hockey.’

The Agnes Irwin senior, who is headed to Princeton University next summer, tried other sports, but gave them up to put all her attention into becoming the best field hockey player she could. She has earned her place on the United States under-21 team, which will allow her to play internationally in the coming months.

This fall, she proved to be the best player among those attending schools in Delaware County. Sophia Tornetta is the 2014 Daily Times Field Hockey Player of the Year.

Joining her on the All-Delco team is her teammate and younger sister Julianna Tornetta, Maddie Backsai, Christy Palazzese, Margaux Paolino and Ali Rushton of Episcopal Academy, Makayla Gallen and Jess Randazzo of Cardinal O’Hara, Bonner-Prendergast’s Riley Dolan, Quinn Maguire of The Academy of Notre Dame, Keara McNulty of Archbishop Carroll and Katie Wyman of Haverford High.

The Tornetta sisters and Palazzese and Paolino also were members of the 2013 All-Delco first team, while Rushton and Maguire earned second-team honors last year. Julianna Tornetta, Gallen, Dolan and Maguire are sophomores and Backsai and Paolino are juniors.

The All-Delco team is selected by the Daily Times after consultation with area coaches.

Sophia Tornetta reached many milestones during her senior season, and having her younger sister involved in helping her celebrate made everything that took place much more special.

Agnes Irwin took on Springside Chestnut Hill in an Inter-Ac League match Halloween Day. Tornetta’s career goal total was 96 as that game began, and before the final whistle sounded, she had become the first Owls hockey player with 100 career goals.

She reached the century mark with 8:40 left in the game, scoring with an assist from sister Julianna.

“It was our Senior Day, and Lucy Maguire and Heather Crosby, who are seniors, also scored goals in that game,’ Tornetta said. “I remember Julianna passing the ball to me as I scored my 100th goal.

“It was freezing cold, but so many people came out to see that game even though they weren’t sure (the 100th goal) was going to happen that day. As soon as it did (athletics director Sheila Pauley) took me over to my parents. It’s something I will always remember.’

Alison Brant, who became AI’s head coach when Tornetta was a sophomore, won’t forget watching her grow as a player, a teammate and a leader.

“She keeps the goals of the team at heart while always expecting the absolute best of herself,’ Brant said. “And she never quits. She is a wonderful example of truly hard, dedicated work. She does whatever is necessary and beyond to ensure that the team is successful.’

That work ethic has led Tornetta to put in her time with W.C. Eagles, one of the finest club programs in the country, as well as with the USA Field Hockey program. Despite her lofty status as a player, she felt the most pride in the way she performed as a teammate.

“During practices she is often seen helping the younger players work on skills and is the first to jump in and demonstrate a new drill we’re implementing,’ Brant said. “During games she works with those around her to find the best angle to goal and motivates her teammates to focus on playing as hard as they can together.’

When she was a field hockey beginner, others recognized that she would become someone who wouldn’t be denied whenever she took to the field.

“I wasn’t that skilled, but they would tell me I was always a scrappy little player,’ the 5-2 Tornetta said. “I just loved competition, and I developed a real desire to win. It was just a lot of hard work and dedication.’

Playing field hockey also was something she could do whenever the worries that come with the academic challenges of school or the troubles of being a teenager became part of her life.

“Being out there on the field was a good stress reliever,’ she said. “For four years I saw a lot of things change for the better for myself and my school, and I was so happy to be a part of all of it.’

Tornetta scored 42 goals and added 27 assists for Agnes Irwin in 2014. The Owls earned Inter-Ac League victories over Notre Dame for the first time in 15 years on the way to a 19-4 regular season record, but they fell short in their Pennsylvania Independent Schools playoff match with the Irish, who lost the final to Episcopal Academy.

“It was nice that everyone was telling us how proud they were of us,’ she said. “I knew this would be my last season here, and it was my last chance to do a lot of things. I was grateful to be able to share so much with our coaches and my teammates.’

Despite the fact that she was such a dynamic scorer, Tornetta also showed her skills at the other end of the field.

“Sophia is an extremely dynamic and selfless player,’ Brant said. “She brings the kind of energy and tenacity to the attacking end of the field that is so necessary to our game. Not only that, but she never hesitates to transition as a defender when she is needed.

“Often I’ve seen her hustle into the defending end of our field to help where she could and then, without pause, moved back into her original position to set up a scoring play.’

As a member of the American under-21 team, she will train in January and February for a trip to The Netherlands in March. Her long-range goal would be to wear the colors of the USA at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Before that, she will attempt to help Princeton University reclaim the NCAA Division I championship it last won in 2012. She will be one of seven newcomers in the Tigers’ lineup in 2015, joining her W.C. Eagles teammate Nicole Catalino of Gwynedd Mercy Academy and Hatboro-Horsham’s Casey Swezey, who is the daughter of Laura (Frieze) Swezey, the Chichester High and La Salle University multi-sport standout who was inducted into the Delco Athletes Hall of Fame earlier this year.

“Sophia received the team’s excellence award for the past few years,’ Brant said. “The award is predominately based on statistics, but there are no numbers to sum up the impact this player has had on our program, the team, or this season.

“If she continues to push herself, to expect more of herself, then I see a very bright and accomplished future as she transitions to the next level of hockey at Princeton. If the last four years are any indication of her potential and talent, then the next four years will be truly extraordinary.’

Tornetta knows it will be difficult to leave Agnes Irwin, which has been her home since she began ninth grade. She does look forward to newer challenges in the classroom and on the hockey field.

“I’ve been happy here and appreciate the way everyone here is like family and is so supportive,’ she said. “I also know that I want to make the next step, but I will be back whenever I can to see my sister and the others.’

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