Messner makes the most of her turn in goal for Episcopal

RADNOR >> Through the first month and change of the fall, Morgan Messner has been part of a common arrangement in the high school ranks.

The Episcopal Academy sophomore goalie has split time in net with classmate Hannah Moriarty. Both have acquitted themselves well enough to perpetuate the minutes-sharing scheme. But for one day at least, Messner stated a pertinent case as Episcopal Academy’s No. 1.

Messner stopped nine shots, some in spectacular fashion, and held back the constant waves of Agnes Irwin pressure long enough for Jess Shanahan to tally the game-winner two minutes from time as the Churchwomen claimed a 1-0 Inter-Ac win Tuesday.

The difference between the teams, ultimately, was their ability to finish chances. And much of that disparity was down to Messner’s reflexes in goal.

Episcopal Academy's Molly O'Brian, left, rises for a header over Agnes Irwin's Annie McConnon Tuesday during the Churchwomen's 1-0 win. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)
Episcopal Academy’s Molly O’Brian, left, rises for a header over Agnes Irwin’s Annie McConnon Tuesday during the Churchwomen’s 1-0 win. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)

The host Owls (3-4-1, 1-3-0) directed one-way traffic for large stretches, but Messner was equal to the task each time. She controlled the chaos in the box, borne of excellent crosses by wingers Lydia Bartosh and Maria Pansini.
Her finest save came in the 59th minute when she rose to punch an Emily Fryer shot over the bar.

“It’s nerve-wracking really because it’s such a tight game that one small mistake in the back can cost us,” Messner said. “But we were really solid and hung in and really just were able to chip away at Agnes Irwin and were able to come away with the win because we were able to stay strong in the back.”

While some players may be reticent to split responsibilities, Messner credits her time-share with Moriarty as driving her, especially as an underclassman. The rangy Messner clearly has the physical tools and instincts, but the accountability of knowing that another talented keeper is nipping at her heels drives her to improve.

“It’s really great because we have the mindset that we have a starting keeper, and that’s not either one of us,” she said. “It’s game to game. It really causes both of us to push really hard during practice, and whoever is hot gets the start. I think it helps us a lot because it can develop us. If I or Hannah were the starting keeper, it would allow us to slack off a little bit, but this kind of gives us that mentality that, ‘I have to work for it.’”

The flipside of Messner’s stymying of Agnes Irwin was the clinical finish offered by Shanahan. The Churchwomen (9-2-1, 5-0-1) had a few shots blocked and forced Kendall Shein into action six times on mostly routine shots.

But off a seemingly innocuous goal kick thoroughly against the run of play, Shanahan capitalized. Messner’s goal kick deflected off an Agnes Irwin head in midfield, glancing backward and launching Shanahan into space between the right back and central defense.

MORE: Photo Gallery, Episcopal Academy defeats Agnes Irwin, 1-0

The diminutive midfielder kept her feet as an Owl slid in with a tackle attempt, then rounded another defender and rifled a shot across the face of goal and into the far-side netting on which Shein never stood a chance.

“I just had a lot of space,” Shanahan said. “One girl almost fouled me, but I think I had the right balance and I took a shot when I saw the ball come through.”

Episcopal Academy goalkeeper Morgan Messner stops a shot from Agnes Irwin's Kristin Burnetta in the first half of EA's 1-0 win Tuesday. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)
Episcopal Academy goalkeeper Morgan Messner stops a shot from Agnes Irwin’s Kristin Burnetta in the first half of EA’s 1-0 win Tuesday. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)

Messner aside, Shanahan’s deft finish contrasted sharply from Agnes Irwin’s wastefulness in front of goal. Most of their best buildups ended without testing Messner, leaving them with little payoff for dominating the pace of play.

Kristin Burnetta, who had four shots denied by Messner, toe-poked over the bar on the volley in the first half and missed a golden opportunity with 15 minutes to play after Pansini played a superb cross-field ball that momentarily unhinged the EA defense. Pansini also side-footed an effort over the bar in the first half off Bartosh’s pinpoint cross, while Fryer fizzled a pair of shots wide of the frame.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” Agnes Irwin defender Claire Micheletti said. “We do our best in the back to make sure we make as little mistakes as possible. Always one thing happens, so the breakaway was unfortunate. But we had a ton of opportunities, and we’ve been working on a lot of shooting and finishing, so it’s coming.”

It seems only fitting that the Owls’ quest for an equalizer ended with Burnetta hitting the turf under a heavy challenge in the box from fullback Claudia Becker, only to have the penalty shot waved away. That’s the kind of day it was for the Owls, despite being buoyed by the return of Fryer and Annie McConnon from injury.

Instead, Tuesday represented a victory of major significance for EA. The Churchwomen have reached the halfway point of the league slate, having notched one-goal wins over the three teams staking the most significant claims to an Inter-Ac title: Penn Charter, Germantown Academy, and archrivals Agnes Irwin.

“I think it does a lot for us,” Shanahan said. “They’re one of the three biggest teams we have to play in the league. To get our third win against those teams I think just sets us up awesome against the rest of the league because we know that we have three big wins.”

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