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North Penn finds organization in its chaos to top Abington

The North Penn girls lacrosse team gathers before taking the field against Abington on Friday, April 8, 2022. (Andrew Robinson/For MediaNews Group)

TOWAMENCIN >> Organized Chaos.

That was the phrase Emily Varilla, trying to balance a pair of lacrosse sticks, a backpack and a bottle of water, used not only to describe herself at that moment, but her North Penn girls lacrosse team so far this season. It’d been an interesting week for the Knights, including an extremely chaotic win on Wednesday, but they had all their focus on a rematch with the Abington program that had ended their season in the playoffs last spring.

North Penn was more organized than it was chaotic Friday, downing the visiting Ghosts 11-1 under the lights of Crawford Stadium with a tempo-setting performance.

“The best thing about this team is the way we’ve really come together as a family,” senior Emily Varilla said. “We’ve all known each other for a while, now we’re starting to come together, find the open girl and connect. It’s all a team effort now.”

“Family” is the word the Knights (3-2, 1-0 SOL) chose to adorn the back of their light blue warm-up shirts for the season and for good reason. North Penn coach Heather Mellow noted this is the smallest varsity roster she’s had in her time leading the program but not one lacking for talent.

If anything, the Knights almost have too many options offensively. Jordan Bailey led NP with four goals and an assist on Friday, but Kerry O’Donnell was right behind with three goals, her twin sister Erin had two goal while Varilla and Liv Caputo also scored.

“I like that there’s no one person we’re relying on offensively but we’re still trying to see who wants to be that one who directs it,” Mellow said. “They all can do it. Nobody wants to step on each other’s toes, they’re respecting each other but we’re getting there and they are working to figure it out.”

After giving up 13 goals last time out, Knights goalie Kiera Holt and her backs were determined to get their own chaos much better organized on the defensive end. In a way, Abington (2-3, 1-0 SOL) was the perfect opponent to follow up that wild Wednesday affair as the Ghosts had lit up North Penn’s defense in the opening round of last year’s District 1-3A playoffs.

Sure, this is a different North Penn team and the Ghosts are very, very different team this season but it was still enough to put the Knights in the right mindset. Holt, a recent Bloomsburg commit, was rock-solid in goal with seven saves including a couple denials of eight-meter rips and her backs Haley Decker, Ella Burget, Hannah Mallitz and Grace Macnamara were “insane” as their goalie described it.

“We were calling this the redemption game because we wanted to come out and show what we were about,” Holt said. “Last year was such a tough loss on all of us and we really wanted to show what we’re really capable of. It feels good to finally be able to beat Abington and move on with our season.

“Honestly, it all goes out to my defense, they were insane and stopped everything.”

On the other side of the field, it was another uphill outing for Abington. The Ghosts have a few veterans back including seniors Mei Mei Cheng and Caroline Hughes but for the most part, are undergoing wholesale turnover across the board.

With the bulk of their offensive output graduating last June, the Ghosts are going through some growing pains in front of the opposing goal. Emma Warner, off a nice feed by Hughes, scored Abington’s lone goal on Friday.

The effort is there, which it has to be for a team that features the relentless Cheng in midfield, but it’s still been challenging.

“It’s been a little frustrating, but we’re trying to work as a team and come together,” Cheng, a co-captain, said. “I think if we can come together, we can definitely have a good season. We’ve had some hard games and played tough teams early in the season but the new girls are learning quickly.

“I think it’s only a matter of time until we start to come together.”

While North Penn controlled time of possession, it wasn’t like the Knights were scoring at will. Abington’s defensive unit held firm, even through some long stands, but the offense wasn’t able to maintain its own possession or cash in on chances.

“Their defense did a nice job, they crashed really, really well,” Mellow said. “Even with a lead, we were still struggling to get through and make some plays.”

Varilla, a La Salle recruit, has seen improvement in the flow of the offense with each passing game. More and more, her teammates in the midfield and attack are looking to either be the cutter or the passer and are moving more and more away from everyone else clearing out and letting one person try to fight through the defense on their own.

“This game can be a turning point for us,” Varilla said. “It was a big team effort and that’s what is going to be our turning point for the season, if we continue to come together as a family.”

“This was a step-up game for us,” Holt added. “We’re so excited, I think after this win is where we’re turning it on and going.”

North Penn 11, Abington 1
North Penn 5 6 – 11
Abington 0 1 – 1
Goals: NP – Jordan Bailey (Emily Varilla), Liv Caputo, Bailey, Bailey, Erin O’Donnell (Bailey), Kerry O’Donnell, Bailey, K O’Donnell, E O’Donnell, Varilla, K O’Donnell; A – Emma Warner (Caroline Hughes).

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