WEST CHESTER >> In her first season as Phoenixville Area High School head field hockey coach, Claire Emplit has her squad headed to the quarterfinal round of the District 1-2A playoffs.
The 10th-seeded Phantoms made a first-half goal stand up for a 1-0 victory over host Bayard Rustin, the seventh seed in the tournament, Wednesday afternoon.
Sophomore Katie Baker scored the game’s lone goal with an assist by junior Gabby Herschell off a penalty corner opportunity. Freshman Aubrie Breisblatt made the insert on the corner, which was one of 12 such chances on the day by Phoenixville, compared to five for Rustin.
The goal occurred with 9:21 remaining in the first half. That score, along with continuing stellar defensive play by the Phantoms, enabled Phoenixville (13-6) to advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round with a road game against second-seeded Mount Saint Joseph, a 5-0 winner over Kennett.
Senior goalkeeper Tyler Hall recorded the shutout with five saves. She had plenty of help from her defensive backs, namely junior Kyra Trafford, senior Becca Lewis, junior Hannah Syrek and freshman Eloise Woodall. Syrek and Woodall each came up with important defensive saves during the contest.
Junior Ameerah Green used her speed to help create a number of chances for the Phantoms.
Junior Megan Hadfield registered 10 saves for the Golden Knights, a Ches-Mont American League team who closed out their 2017 season with a 9-7-1 overall record under head coach Susie Macciocca.
“I felt we looked like the better team throughout,” said Herschell. “I wasn’t thinking about it (one-goal lead). I honestly was getting nervous at the end.”
Herschell is known for her midfield play with patented hard drives and high scoop hits that mostly help set up her teammates to score goals.
Phoenixville has developed good team chemistry throughout the fall season with a combination of experienced players and youngsters on a 43-player roster, which includes 12 seniors, 11 juniors, nine sophomores and 11 freshmen.
“In the beginning of the season, we were slow and out of it,” said Baker. “In the middle of the season, we started to get going so it was a matter of maintaining it.”
“I think in the middle of the season, we peaked,” said Herschell. “We started conditioning more and were stepping up. Conditioning makes us more competitive and faster.”
The Phantoms qualified for the Pioneer Athletic Conference Final Four playoffs as the second-place team from the Frontier Division.
Junior Blaise Cugini, who plays the left forward position for the Golden Knights, said it just was not the Golden Knights’ day.
“We didn’t capitalize on our opportunities. We weren’t following and finishing. It wasn’t our game,” said Cugini. “I think we came in with some overconfidence. We didn’t step up to the plate and come out as strong as we usually do.”
Cugini said Rustin will be graduating a lot of seniors (nine), but will also be returning eight juniors and three sophomores from their current 20-player roster.
“I think we will be as strong, if not stronger, next year,” said Cugini.
Phoenixville isn’t yet looking to next year – it has more ahead.
“It is very exciting,” said Emplit. “I am very proud of them. In the preseason, we started working on some fundamental things. We started moving the ball to each other. I have definitely seen the way we move the ball on the field better. We really have confidence in each other.”
NOTES >> Emplit is assisted by Erin Hobbs and Jessica Ferguson. … Rustin’s assistant coaches are Jessica Rice, Kande Speers and Glenn Hutchinson. … The Golden Knights got some strong play from senior midfielder Marie Gazzillo, junior midfielder Alexis Schambers, senior midfielder Amanda Harkins, sophomore Skylar Alcaro, junior midfielder Shannon Drakeley as well as seniors Michaela St. Clair and Kiley Quinn.
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