Villa Joseph Marie edges Gwynedd Mercy for 5th straight District 1-AA title

FRANCONIA >> It’s become a familiar refrain this time of year.

Gwynedd Mercy gives everything it has against Villa Joseph Marie and the Gems find a way to come out on top. It was no different Wednesday night as Villa Joe clawed out a 1-0 win in the District 1 Class AA title game at Souderton.

It was the fifth straight AA title for Villa Joe and the fourth time it bested GMA for the hardware. The teams have met every year except 2013.

“Ever since we beat them (3-2 in the regular season), we knew they were coming after us,” GMA senior co-captain Erica DeCandido said. “We knew that we had to come out strong. They are an aggressive and skilled team so we had to come out and match and even extend past their intensity.”

It was a high tempo and very well played game, befitting the quality of the two teams involved.

Villa Joe had the two best chances of a fairly even first half of play. The first came off the foot of Murphy Agnew, but her rip was right to Payton Morrissey.

The biggest moment of the first half came when Agnew was fouled, causing her injured back to flare up. After a moment down, the junior came off and stayed sidelined to close the half, trying to stretch out through the intermission.

Agnew never returned, but her teammates were able to get it done for her.

The second half was much like the first, up-and-down and fairly even. Villa Joe put some early pressure on the Monarchs, but GMA withstood it and battled back to settle the game.

“It’s about outworking each other,” Monarchs coach Steve Whitby said. “There’s planning involved, they have a couple of real dangerous players. It’s a little bit unfair that only one team of these two quality teams moves through to states.”

The Monarchs came close to be dangerous a few times in the earlier stages of the half but couldn’t seem to find that last connecting pass to get in. Villa Joe’s back line did well to intercept a couple of those balls while GMA slipped a few too far or wide.

The Jems’ speed was a constant threat for GMA and that acceleration up top provided the game’s first breakthrough. Casey Kilchrist put pressure on the back line and pounced on a ball, getting in a chip over the keeper with 17:55 left.

“I didn’t get a good look at it but it looked like some miscommunication between our keeper and back, who both did a pretty good job for most of the night,” Whitby said. “(The Jems) played well, for much of the game, they were the better team.”

The Monarchs won a corner about two minutes later, but the Gems keeper ripped it out of the air. Villa Joe came back down and then put one on net that Payton Morrissey was able to cover.

Coming into the game with an earlier victory over the Jems was a spot of inspiration for the Monarchs. With athletes across the board, and several of them as experienced as DeCandido, Maggie Cameron and Mary Claire Casey, it felt like this could be the year for GMA.

“We were so hyped, we were so ready for this,” DeCandido said. “We had to come out here, it wasn’t going to be easy and we had to fight to the finish, but we knew we had a chance and this was the closest we’ve come in a while.”

With 12:36 left and following a yellow card, the Monarchs had a couple of chances in a short span. A free kick off the card bounced through the box and got GMA a free kick when DeCandido was taken down just outside the box on the left side.

That free kick was headed over by the Jems, giving GMA a corner but that service resulted in a high shot.

The Monarchs threw everything they had forward at that point, but Villa Joe’s back line was able to hold off the last hurrahs.

The Monarchs had one last corner with less than 30 seconds to go but the Gems had one last stand in them.

With only one team going on to states, it’s a weird place for the loser to be in. The Monarchs wanted to be the last one standing in Class AA, but DeCandido said that despite the frustration and emotions of losing, she still viewed the season as a success. GMA still had to win its way to the final and giving Villa Joe a game was an acceptable consolation.

Despite never getting to states, the senior class at Gwynedd accomplished plenty.

“It’s going to be a lasting mark on my life,” DeCandido said. “It’s been the best four years of my life and I can speak for the seven other seniors in saying this isn’t going to be the last of us with Gwynedd soccer. We’re all going to come back to games as much as we can.

“We were undefeated at home this season, which I thought was a huge accomplishment, we beat Villa Joe for the first time in a while. But what I thought was the biggest accomplishment, this isn’t just a team, it’s a family now. I know the relationships I made here are going to last forever.”

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