Garnet Valley takes first-round feat in stride

CONCORD >> Ashley Bufano expected a battle in goal Tuesday night. She backstopped No. 28 Garnet Valley in a stalemated first half against No. 5 Boyertown, then saw a Jaguars goal early in the second cancelled out by a Boyertown strike with 11 minutes to play.

As the game wound toward the inevitability of penalty kicks, the junior goalie suffered no nerves. In some ways, that denouement seemed perfect for the Jags’ journey this season. Bufano and her teammates ran headlong toward it.

“I feel like our season has kind of been like that,” Bufano said Wednesday, hours after Garnet Valley survived PKs, 3-1, to notch a momentous upset in the first round of the District One Class AAA tournament. “We’ve faced a lot of adversity, and we really just pushed through as a team. So I feel like I was really conditioned to just keep going.”

That process continues Thursday when Garnet Valley (9-6-4) visits No. 12 seed Owen J. Roberts in the second round.

The upset feat Tuesday was simultaneously remarkable and foreseeable. The gulf between seeds 5 and 28 is typically vast. Of 24 opening-round games Tuesday, only five higher seeds won. (The No. 28 seed also upended the No. 5 last year; that team, ironically, was Owen J. Roberts).

The flipside is that Garnet Valley didn’t hold itself in a typical esteem for the final team in the field. It’s the fourth straight season that the Jags have qualified, which has become the expectation rather than the exception under Paul Costa’s stewardship.

Their record owes to a tough schedule that includes Pennsbury, West Chester Henderson and Owen J. (a 2-1 loss in overtime two weeks ago), all of which remain alive. The latter loss exemplifies the struggle at the crux of the season: The Jags drew four of their first six matches, failed to cash in on other instances of dominating play and posted a record most players felt was unrepresentative of the danger they pose.

The reasons for the slow start are many. It reflects the learning curve for many dual-sport athletes coming off a summer on the lacrosse field, though the delayed payoff is that veterans like Rachel Warden, Emily Mathewson and Kara Nakarasius bring the competitive expertise that has powered two PIAA lacrosse titles.

Another is their dependence on freshmen. Forward Gia Dragoni and attacking midfielder Julia Burnell buried

 Julia Burnell made one of three penalty kicks that helped Garnet Valley move onto the second round of the District One Class AAA tournament.
Julia Burnell made one of three penalty kicks Tuesday night that helped Garnet Valley advance to the second round of the District One Class AAA tournament.

penalty kicks Tuesday, Burnell’s sealing advancement. Dragoni score the goal in regulation.

Neither was fazed by the pressure of the shootout.

“I get excited when I get to take a penalty kick,” Dragoni said. “It’s all on me, but I know I can do it. It’s a little bit of pressure, but it’s not bad.”

“I know I have to score for my team to win,” Burnell said. “So I’m just trying to relax, keep it calm, go for one of the corners, look the goalie in the eye, not let her know where I’m going, stay straight on the ball and just kick it into the right corner.”

Burnell’s story is particularly representative. The freshman missed six games in September for callups to a pair of United States Under-15 camps in Portland, Ore., and Carson, Calif. She missed valuable time to bond with teammates off the field and build chemistry on. But since returning, she’s made a massive impact.  

Owen J. (14-5) presents a daunting challenge for the second act of this postseason drama. The Wildcats trampled No. 21 Mount St. Joseph 6-3. There’s no time for a letdown for Garnet Valley, and while the seeds posit an easier task, the focus is on perpetuating their momentum.

“It definitely has us peaking right where we need to be,” Bufano said. “…We’ve faced those hardships, and now we’re the best we’ve ever been.”

In other girls District One AAA action:

No. 15 Radnor at No. 2 Pennsbury, 7

The Raiders (10-3-5) have passed tests all season, and Tuesday’s effort in penalty kicks against Penncrest was yet another installment. They held firm for 100 minutes, with the spine of goalkeeper Alexa Soloman, defender Abby Lord and midfielder Allison Lanzone keeping the clean sheet.

The Falcons (17-1), the reigning District One champs, are eager to return to states, where they fell in the quarterfinals last year. Pennsbury received a first-round bye.

No. 10 Downingtown West at No. 7 Strath Haven, 7

Haven coach Gino Miraglia knows what it takes the win a district title — the last coming in 2012 over these Whippets. The cornerstone is depth, and Tuesday, Mae Walsh exemplified that in fine fashion with the overtime game-winner over Haverford, the senior’s first varsity goal.

Walsh is a long-sought third forward option, complementing All-Central MVP Lizzie King and winger Maddie Forbes. Her emergence presents another option to bolster the Panthers’ depth.

Gina Peraino’s drive from distance earned the Whippets (13-5) a win Tuesday over West Chester East. They played a taut affair with chances few and far between. That’s the kind of game you’d project at Strath Haven, but with the Haverford win stretched to a 3-2 scoreline, the Panthers have shown comfort playing both ways.

In the boys field:

No. 19 Central Bucks West at No. 3 Springfield, 3

The Bucks (14-5) toppled Marple Newtown, 1-0, Tuesday off a long throw by Brandon Morris knocked home by Marcos Urffer. The Bucks are one of 10 Suburban One teams comprising the 16 second-round participants. Freshman goalkeeper Dylan Smith has posted 11 shutouts.

One advantage off the top could be Springfield’s grass at Halderman Field, which should be plenty soggy Thursday, a different dynamic for a Bucks team accustomed to turf. The Cougars (13-3-2) may cede the physical battle to the traditionally sizeable and well-organized Bucks, coached by former Haverford coach Stefan Szygiel. But playmakers Nick Jannelli and Andrew Astrino can pry open spaces in a condensed midfield.

In Class A:

No. 5 Christopher Dock at No. 4 Christian Academy, 3

The Crusaders (12-5) were made to wait a day for their District One playoff debut by weather. Dock (12-6) won at home two weeks ago, 2-1, which should set up a tantalizing affair in Brookhaven. Brit Haseltine scored in that game, part of the 29 goals and 13 assists he’s compiled this season.

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