NEWTOWN – In a close game, one little misstep could cost a team dearly. Fourth-seeded Neshaminy had none, however, in a 2-0 triumph over No. 13 West Chester Henderson Thursday, Oct. 29 in what was a District 1 opener for the Lady Skins, who advanced to face No. 5 Conestoga the very next day in a D-1 quarterfinal.
In the closing minutes, the Warriors, who were awarded a pair of corner opportunities in the last five minutes of the contest, failed to get a shot on frame. The West Chester team was also granted a pair of possessions at the top of the circle in the final five and still did not get a shot that reached Neshaminy keeper Haille Sheppard, who earned her 14 shutout of the season.
“We definitely capitalized on our defensive corners,” said senior midfielder Marlena Koellner. “(Our coach) was very happy that we allowed no shots on the cage during those corners.
“We kept them out of our circle the majority of the game.”
Sheppard, the senior keeper for the Skins, earned her 14th shutout of the season but the defense had something to do with that. Sheppard, who is headed to Arcadia, needed to stop only four shots in this one.
Less than eight minutes into the contest, which took place on the turf at Council Rock North’s Walt Snyder Stadium, Neshaminy struck on the first of five first-half corner-ops. Sophomore Abby Geisler broke the ice on a feed from Mia Sexton.
With five minutes remaining in the first half, the Skins struck again on a corner, the third straight such opportunity and this time it was senior Amanda Blum who scored when she deflected a shot by Koellner into the back of the cage.
“We have plenty of corners, well thought out and strategically-planned so that we can capitalize on them,” stated Koellner, matter-of-factly.
While Neshaminy failed to add to a 2-0 halftime lead, the Skins kept the pressure on the Warrior defense and WCH keeper Rachel Bliss through at least the 20-minute mark of the second half.
“We really wanted to keep possession down their side of the field – their defensive end,” added junior Mia Sexton. “The midfield did a great job distributing the ball up top to us so we could kind of contain it up there.”
Meanwhile, Henderson had a hard time getting the ball past midfielders like Maria Palmieri, who is headed to Drexel and Koellner, who will play at Sacred Heart (Conn.).
“Maria (Palmieri) controls part of the midfield and she really takes a leadership role on the team,” explained Sexton. “She makes sure she distributes the ball nicely up to the forwards and plays it back when she has to.”
When Palmieri wasn’t putting up a blockade, Koellner was right there with the defense. Many times in this game, she challenged the Warrior attackers, came up with the turnover and sent the ball the other way.
“Marlena can always get off a strong tackle,” stated Sexton. “Even when she doesn’t, she always slows down the game enough where we can get (the ball) as a unit and push it up the field.”
As dominant as Neshaminy was in the first half, the Skins were even stronger in the second.
“We definitely knew we needed to come out even stronger than we did in the first half because we knew that they wanted to win as badly as we did,” explained Koellner. “They were down so they wanted it even more. We knew we had to stay on top because we couldn’t lose this game.”
“We knew the second half would determine the fate of each of our seasons so we knew we had to come out harder than them in order to win it, added Sexton, a cousin of Koellner’s.
Despite their obvious composure in the playoff, the cousins admitted there’s always some nerves that go along with a postseason contest.
“Our nerves were running a little bit because it was our first playoff game,” explained Koellner. “But I think the excitement exceeded our nerves so we weren’t a frantic mess out there.”
“There’s always some nerves that are underlying in the playoffs,” said Sexton. “But I think I was just really psyched because our whole team came out super-excited for this game.”
For Henderson, which captured a District 1 championship three years ago and defeated No. 20 West Chester East 6-1 Oct. 26 in its D-1 opener, its 2015 campaign ends at 14-5-1.
“We were a step slow today,” said Warriors head coach Jen O’Donnell. “I don’t think we had our normal give-and go game.
“We were a little off and you can’t be off in the playoffs; you have to be on if you are going to win.”
A young squad this season, Henderson started seven sophomores in the contest.
“They’re big girls and they come with big hits,” stated O’Donnell, speaking of Neshaminy. “They have a couple good skill players and they’re big.
“I have some little players and they were a little intimidated by the sticks swinging out there.”
After going 8-4-1 in league play, the Warriors finished in fourth place in the Ches-Mont League National Division. Their coach says the team sustained all four league losses early then went undefeated the rest of the way.
“We had a good turnaround and came on strong at the end of the season,” explained O’Donnell. “The sophomores started to mature and started to play well together as a team.”
Henderson says goodbye to forward Emily Delor, defender Ryann Bauer, midfielder Sammi Long and goalie Rachel Bliss, who is headed to Limestone.
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Neshaminy 2, West Chester Henderson 0
(Oct. 29 at CR North)
HENDERSON 0 0 – 0
NESHAMINY 2 0 – 2
GOALS: Abby Geisler (N) from Mia Sexton, 7:14; Amanda Blum (N) from Marlena Koellner, 24:52.
SHOTS: Henderson 4, Neshaminy 10.
SAVES: Rachel Bliss (WCH) 3; Haille Sheppard (N) 1.