Yet another PIAA title shot for Villa Joseph Marie (GALLERY)

NORTHAMPTON – An old inspirational battle cry claims, “Where there is a will, there is a way”. Swap the word Villa for “will” and you have a winning soccer formula. This year, the girls at Villa Jo Marie defied all Doubting Thomases and converted a supposed building year into yet another run at a state championship.

The Jems’ 2015 campaign started ominously enough. Graduation of several key players from the previous year’s state championship partly explained why Villa managed to post a modest 5-3 record going into October. The fact that the three losses came at the hands of a trio of class AAA playoff teams did not help.

Yet, as they always seem to do, coach Rich Finneyfrock’s charges found a way. Winning eight of their last nine regular season games earned Villa a first place seed in the districts. A 1-0 title victory over Gwynedd Mercy advanced them to states.

The supposed ‘building year’ had turned into another trip down the Keystone Yellow Brick Road. The first potential speed bump, however, came in the form of district 3 runner up, Northern York. The Jems’ tri-captain Bridget Galen sensed Villa was heading into a real tussle. “Coach Finn always gives us a scouting report. We knew their team was strong from their district. We knew it would be a battle out there.”

The wind and rain that swept across Walt Snyder Stadium made the battle a slippery affair with neither team able to score in regulation play. Two fifteen minute overtime periods also failed to produce a goal, leaving the teams’ ultimate fate in the hands of penalty kicks.

Bridget shared her team’s frustration. “I couldn’t believe we went into penalty kicks that early in the playoffs. We had so many chances to score but just didn’t. We hate deciding games on penalty kicks. You play so hard and it’s all decided by five kicks.”


Despite the discomfort, the Jems once again came up with a winning answer. Successful kicks by Murphy Agnew, Bridget Galen, Erica Behr and Alyssa Behr gave them the opening round victory. Bridget could breathe a sigh of relief. “I was thinking if this game was this difficult what are the rest of the playoffs going to be like? I was happy at the moment but nervous for the rest of playoffs.”

The answer came with a decisive 3-0 victory over district four champ Midd-West in the quarter finals. Goals by Megan O’Neill, Alyssa Dionisio and Eva Ruppersberger provided the offensive firepower. Bridget reveled at her team’s performance. “We played so well that game. We really came to play. Everyone was pumped up for that game. We scored pretty early. Scoring that early helped settle us into the game. It made it easier. We gained confidence and kept the ball the whole time. Our coach said that was the best game we put together all year.”

Only one more team stood between the Jems and a shot at a repeat title go. Their next opponent, district three champ Fleetwood, boasted a 21-1-3 record going into the state semi-final. Their senior goalie, Jenna Hawkins, had posted 16 shutouts in 25 games. Certainly, this game would test the scoring might of Villa Jo. Casey Kilchrist leads the Jems with 16 goals, followed by Murphy Agnew with 15 and Alyssa with 11.

Bridget knew the challenge awaiting Villa. “The whole team was nervous. We knew they didn’t let up many goals. They have a really strong keeper and a solid defense. They had this one girl number 37 (Sydney Lobb) who scored most of their goals so we practiced shutting her down.”

The game played out as expected with neither team finding the back of the opponent’s net. One 15-minute overtime period failed to produce a decisive Golden Goal. Bridget feared the threat of yet another penalty kick showdown. “If it would have gone to penalty kicks, I don’t know if I could have taken one. I gave it all I had to not go to penalty kicks. I would hate having our fate decided by that.”

With 12 minutes and 42 seconds left in overtime, Bridget took the game out of fate’s hands. She will long remember her winning tally. “I saw Murphy going down the left side and I thought ‘this is it.’ She’s going to score but I better go up there just in case there is a rebound.”

Bridget’s instincts were partly fueled by coach Finneyfrock’s halftime advice. “At half, our coach said you have to follow your shots because the goalie is giving up a bunch of rebounds. I thought I better listen so I sprinted up as fast as I could behind Murphy. I saw her shoot and there came the ball just like coach said. I concentrated on placing it instead of powering it as I had a few times before. I just knocked it in.”

Villa had once again found a way. Their 1-0 overtime victory assured them another trip to Hershey and a rematch with last year’s title opponent, District 10’s Villa Maria. “All I was thinking is that we are going to Hershey. This is crazy. No one thought that this team would make it this far, including ourselves. We were doubtful. I just thought I am ready to win it again. I am so excited to go out with a bang my senior year.”

Bridget, who will play at Saint Joseph’s University next year, sees Villa Maria as a fitting title opponent “We know they are out for blood and revenge. We know how badly they want it. We know they are a good team. We only won 1-0 last year. We scored two minutes into the game and then held the lead the rest of the game.”

Led by such selfless, team oriented players such as Bridget, the Jems stand as a real threat to repeat. After all, “Where there is a Villa, there is a way!”

UPDATE: Kylie Frantz scored unassisted in the 45th minute for state champion Villa Maria in the PIAA Class AA title game Nov. 21 at HersheyPark Stadium.

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