Haverford defends its turf to top Penncrest

HAVERFORD >> As time wound down at Haverford High School Tuesday afternoon, you could hear Penncrest’s Olivia Mancarella exhorting her team for something, anything, in the way of attacking cohesion.

As the frustration escalated, the volume on the protests rose. That was music to the ears of Haverford’s defense.
The Fords executed all facets of their game plan Tuesday: They got an early goal from Greta Ungvary, they settled in to neutralize waves of Penncrest pressure, and they walked away with a 1-0 win in a battle of Central League unbeatens.

Central to the defensive effort was negating the threat posed by Mancarella, who leads the Lions and the Central League with nine goals. The approach to handling the forward Tuesday was to isolate her up top, depriving her of service and forcing her to run the backline hunting for a loose touch or a speculative long ball.

Haverford's Brianna Blair, center, contests a headed ball with Penncrest's Logan Morris during the Fords' 1-0 win Tuesday. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)
Haverford’s Brianna Blair, center, contests a headed ball with Penncrest’s Logan Morris during the Fords’ 1-0 win Tuesday. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

Wherever Mancarella was, Cece Peden wasn’t far behind, the Haverford holding midfielder foremost among the efforts to wall her off. The blanket coverage precipitated the Lions resorting to passes hoofed hopefully over the defense for the last 20 minutes of the game, looking to exploit pockets of space behind the defense that they hoped Mancarella’s speed could uncover.

The Fords, though, hardly put a foot wrong all evening.

“We really tried to talk a lot about what we were trying to do,” Peden said. “I would front her sometimes and I would have someone backing me up behind her. It was a really defensive effort all together. We had to work really hard together, and mostly, it was communication that was huge.”

In the rare instances when Mancarella or a teammate found space, the backline was equal to the task. Maddie Santoro and Josie Schultz reigned over the center of the pitch, while right back Brianna Blair stepped up with a few crucial interventions, including blocks of two Tara Higgins shots in rapid succession with six minutes to play and Penncrest desperately in search of an equalizer.

“It means a lot to us,” Blair said of the shutout. “I think we all wanted it, and I think you can tell from the way we were playing. We were playing with heart and team effort, and we wanted to beat them.”

In the one instance that Penncrest found daylight, Haverford goalkeeper Alison Durfee was on it. She dove to her left in the 68th minute, getting her hands on a low drive from Mancarella and collecting the stung shot after a brief bobble. Durfee, who worked the second half, made just two saves, but the other was similarly imperative, pawing away a free kick from Gia Martyn just before it fluttered inside the far post from 30 yards out.

The solid defense received all the support required in the 28th minute, thanks again to a defender’s contributions. Blair supplied a long throw-in to a dangerous area near the penalty spot that Jess Mellon headed forward. Ungvary was in pursuit, outrunning a teammate and onrushing goalkeeper Kayla Allen to poke the ball home.

Penncrest’s Olivia Mancarella has her eyes on the ball during the Lions’ 1-0 loss to Haverford in a Central League match Tuesday. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)
Penncrest’s Olivia Mancarella has her eyes on the ball during the Lions’ 1-0 loss to Haverford in a Central League match Tuesday. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

“We always know where to be when Brianna throws in the ball,” Ungvary said. “You just have to really follow every ball and make sure that you’re checking to, and if the opportunity’s there, to take shots.”

Penncrest (8-2, 5-1) had the better of chances, forcing three saves from goalie Jess DePalma early. But the best chance of the first half outside of Ungvary’s marker came via Mellon, who got free and rang a ball off the post 10 minutes prior to the goal.

Haverford (7-2-2, 4-0-2) nearly sealed the game 10 minutes from time as the game got stretched, but Allen dove to corral a deflected effort by Nora Janzer.

Ultimately, the Fords left the field having heeded the pre-match talking points. The veterans still smarted from a 5-1 loss to Penncrest last season, a result in the middle of the Fords’ schedule that helped torpedo a bright start and contributed to a precipitous slide to end the season.

Tuesday, they attained a modicum of revenge.

“Last year, we thought we were going to come out on top, and they ended up beating us 5-1, which was a really big loss to us,” Ungvary said. “That was really the turning point to our season and it just started to go downhill. I think the win today is forcing us uphill to beat the other teams that we have to play.”

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