Villa Maria revels in district title

Villa Maris Academy softball coach Claire Emplit pleaded with her team, “Please leave enough hair for me to braid.’

As the celebration subsided and the medals were handed out, two of the senior captains from the Villa Maria softball team pulled out the scissors to fulfill a bet Emplit made with her team.

“I told them they could cut my hair if we won a district title,’ Emplit said. “The only request was to leave enough hair for me to braid.’

On May 30 at Strath Haven High School, Villa Maria (16-6) won its first PIAA District One Class AAA title since 2003. The Hurricanes defeated Chichester, 1-0, thanks to stellar team defense combined with a clutch hit from Breanna Wright.

The 2003 team, coached by Kathy McCartney and assisted by Ed Thomas, was led by Claire’s younger sister and Ed’s daughter Maggie Thomas (the sixth girl in the family to attend Villa).

The district title was the culmination of a process put in place when Emplit took the reins of her alma mater four years ago.

Emplit said, “When I took the job I knew I would be rebuilding a program and that it was going to take time. I just did not think we would be able to experience this success so quickly.’

Keying the turnaround for Emplit was the senior class — Mary Cate Butler, Brigid Curley, Jamie Brown, Hannah Chambers and Chelsea Dillon — who arrived the same year as their coach as wide-eyed freshmen knowing patience and hard work would be the key ingredient.

“This moment is crazy,’ said senior left fielder Brigid Curley, after the district title game on May 30. “We are like a real family and it’s been awesome. We have grown closer each year.’

“The seniors have meant so much,’ said junior shortstop Sarah Rose Janik. “We would not be here without them.’

In what has turned out to be a season of firsts for Villa, they are hoping to add another first when they opened up play in the state tournament against District 3 third place finisher Conrad Weiser in a game played after Main Line Times went to print.

Combined with the senior leadership has been the stellar pitching of junior Maddie Abbot along with the defensive play of Janik at short at Wright at second.

“It has been awesome to see her grow,’ said Curley, referring to Abbot. “She is a confident pitcher and when you see that all you want to do is back her up in the field especially when you see her working hard.’

Janik added, “When Maddie pitches you always have to focus on one play at a time. You want to support her along with the rest of the team.’

“Our defense has been really good all year and I know when I take the mound my teammates have my back.’

They certainly did against ChiChester as they made all the plays that included two key plays that helped get Villa out of some tenuous situations. The win also allowed the kids to have fun and help coach pay off a bet.

“It was the best haircut I ever had,’ Emplit said with a smile following the game.

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