PHILADELPHIA — The book on Strath Haven’s girls soccer team this season is ripe with issue set pieces. The pattern held true Tuesday.
A defender whipping in a dangerous ball. A league-MVP midfielder winning it in the air. An opponent deflated.
The only problem for Strath Haven was that all those attributes of their usual game plan were thrown right back at them by Archbishop Ryan.
A pair of goals by Emily Deluisi off service from left back Kaitlyn Brace in the first 13 minutes sent the District 12 champion Ragdolls to a 4-2 win over Strath Haven in the first round of the PIAA Class 3A tournament at Ramp Playground Tuesday.
While Strath Haven, the District 1 runner-up, battled with a pair of second-half goals, the Panthers were left to keep playing catchup. And where they had lived by the Dahlia Kuzemka-to-Maggie Forbes connection so often during the year, they fell Tuesday to a similar pairing of pinpoint-footed defender and aerially dominant mid.
“I know she’s really good in the air, so I just hit it over, try to aim where she’s at,” Brace said. “I can count on her to put it into the net.”
Deluisi, the Catholic League MVP for the league champs, struck first in the sixth minute off a corner. A shorter free kick seven minutes later from just outside the box doubled the edge, Brace serving up sensational balls both times that looped perfectly just out of the reach of goalie Claire Wolgast and onto the waiting head of Deluisi to tap home on the doorstep.
“We knew they were like us, so we just had to try our best to stay on our marks and stay as positive as we could,” Kuzemka said.
Penalty to Haven. It's a handball in the box and Dahlia Kuzemka buries it.
4-2 Ryan. 25:08 to play. pic.twitter.com/77SA4PI0eQ
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) November 5, 2019
But Strath Haven, off a 5-0 loss to Villa Joseph Marie in the District 1 final, didn’t collapse with the early concessions. The Panthers evened out play in the first half, mainly through the solo hold-up play of freshman forward Lily Ostiguy. And while it didn’t translate into a goal, it brought them into halftime down just two.
When freshman sparkplug winger Julia Steere steered home a cross from Ellie Malek just 40 seconds into the second half to halve the lead, the Panthers were back in business.
“It was more that the game wasn’t over and just to fight for the last 40 minutes of us all together,” Steere said. “And that’s what we showed on the field.”
“We really needed that,” Kuzemka said. “It was a great finish. She works her butt off the whole game.”
Ryan was the deeper team, particularly in midfield. That divide was exacerbated by the absence of Strath Haven’s Gianna Zweier, who missed the entire postseason with a leg issue.
Yet the Panthers produced some attractive soccer, Grace Samaha connecting down the spine of the team through Malek and Forbes to create chances for Ostiguy and others.
“I think I had to play a little more offensive,” Samaha said. “We have Ellie in the midfield, which is helpful, she’s really more aggressive. But I think with Gianna gone now, I have to go up more and play a little less defensive”.
Steere’s goal was answered within four minutes, the first of two counterattacking goals by Gianna Monaco, this one from the left channel on a slide-rule pass from center back Sarah Szychulski that cleaved the Haven midfield. Monaco added a second goal when Kiersten Montag beat her defender down the left and squared for Monaco to tap home.
Down 4-1 with 27 minutes to play, Haven wasn’t done. A turning shot by Steere was handled in the box, allowing Kuzemka to rocket a penalty kick off the underside of the bar and in. Seconds later, with Ryan letting its physical defense go slightly overboard from its usual effectiveness, Kuzemka rang the outside of the post with a free kick from 25 yards.
Emma Joyce made four saves in goal, none all that difficult, and commanded her area well against the threat of corner kicks. Forbes went down in a tangle of bodies with Deluisi on one particularly combative corner, but there was no call. More often, it was Haven whistled for going over the line of legality on scrums in the box.
On the heels of a game against Villa Joe in which Haven never settled in and defended almost the entire way, being able to push the play was a welcome departure. It’s something to take away from a squad laden with underclassmen making its first states appearance since 2012.
“It was really relaxing,” Kuzemka said. “We all knew, OK we’ve got this. We all knew that we had this chance.”
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