WEST GOSHEN >> Validation was the word, and common denominator, used to describe the whirlwind of emotions stemming from the Owen J. Roberts girls lacrosse team Wednesday at West Chester East.
All the buildup of a program ranked No. 15 in the country by Inside Lacrosse has taken years to grow, the seeds planted long ago and the fruits beginning to bear at Harold Zimmerman Stadium.
The second-seeded Wildcats defeated No. 4 Penncrest, 14-7 in the District 1-3A championship to claim the program’s first district title.
“This is the validating win that we’ve been searching for,” Owen J. Roberts coach David Schlesinger said. “Two weeks from now, that’s the ribbon.”
Celly szn for Owen J. Roberts 🏆 pic.twitter.com/tMBa1UzeXW
— Evan Wheaton (@EvanWheaton) May 31, 2023
The only other time the Wildcats (23-1) made the District 1 final was in 2016. With a semifinal win over reigning PIAA champion Conestoga — the second of the year for Owen J. Roberts — the Wildcats became the fourth non-Central League team to win the District 1 title in the top classification since 2009 when the PIAA tournament era began (Unionville 2021, Great Valley 2015, Downingtown East 2011).
After an initial goal from Kate Stanton for the Lions (18-4), Owen J. Roberts went on a six-goal run, leading 6-1 by the 16:05 mark in the first half and never looking back. Two-time All-American Gabbi Koury tied the game, 1-1 with 20:22 left in the first half and Sierra Milano gave her squad a permanent lead, 2-1 just one minute later.
From there, the University of Florida pledge Koury tacked on another two before Syracuse signee Alexa Vogelman — also a two-time All-American — added two as well.
“We always talk about how if we make a mistake, or if we get scored on, we’re going to let it go and we’re going to win the next draw, make that next play to get the momentum back on our side,” Vogelman said.
Vogelman scored a game-high five goals with one assist. Koury had one assist to go with her first-half hat trick while Milano found the back of the net twice. Blakely Doyle (Liberty), Kalli Mullen (Haverford College), Ava Clemson (Butler) and Colby Wasson (Xavier) all added a goal each.
Koury registered 10 draw controls, secured nine ground balls and caused four turnovers. Vogelman came up with five draw controls and four ground balls, the senior midfielder duo steering the pace in their favor.
“It’s definitely big for the community. I feel like it’s something that’s been up and coming, this community has been growing in the sport of lacrosse,” Vogelman said. “You can see it in our fans, we have a ton of fans that come and travel with us. I think it shows how strong our community is in girls lacrosse.”
Penncrest managed to regain some footing, cutting its deficit 7-4 at halftime. Reese Bigler cut it 6-2 for the Lions with 13:17 left before the break, but Volgeman buried her third of the day with six minutes to go.
From there, Stanton — a Penn commit fresh off surpassing the 200th career goal mark against top-seeded Springfield-Delco in the previous round — gave the Lions life by netting back-to-back goals, joining Koury and Vogelman in the first-half hat trick club for her squad.
“She’s definitely one of our strongest threats for sure,” Penncrest coach Caitlin Morgan said. “The good thing is, she’s not the only one. Most of our scoring has been spread out through six players game-to-game, but she definitely gets things done and we definitely rely on her a lot for sure.”
Kaitlyn Roth, Cara Childs and Kathyrn Harding all added goals for the Lions in the second half.
The Wildcats showed their growth in championship moments from season’s past by immediately righting the ship out of halftime when met with turbulence in their biggest moment.
“We said going into the game we had to have emotional intelligence,” Vogelman said. “We needed to make sure we had a good mindset going into it, play our game and don’t let them overtake us.
“A championship game is filled with anxiety and nerves and it’s so exciting that people can get overwhelmed by the moment. But we really tried to focus on staying in the moment, doing the little things right and playing how we’ve played all year.”
A four-goal burst after the break allowed the Wildcats to pull away permanently, leading by 11-4 with 10:29 left. Owen J. Roberts led by as many as nine goals, 14-5 after a shot from Wasson with just over four minutes remaining.
H2, 22:06 — Kalli Mullen nets one on OJR’s second possession of the half to extend the Wildcats’ lead, 8-4 over Penncrest. pic.twitter.com/OYEuBXDXTD
— Evan Wheaton (@EvanWheaton) May 31, 2023
With its first state tournament berth since 2018 in hand, Penncrest enters the PIAA bracket with some proven ability to remain competitive among the best of Pennsylvania’s elite.
The Lions came out on top in a double-overtime thriller against No. 5 Downingtown East, 11-10, before stunning top-seeded juggernaut Springfield-Delco, 13-12 in the semifinals while handing the latter its first loss of the year after a goal in the final seconds of regulation.
“It’s awesome. It’s something we’ve been talking about for years now,” Morgan said. “We’ve been really working on our mindset and our mind game. I think it showed today, we came out and played hard and played on fire. It just didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to. But they never let up and they not once looked scared, which I’m really so proud of them for.”
In its last three seasons (2019, 2021 and 2022), Owen J. Roberts has been bounced in the District 1 and PIAA quarterfinals each year. But with the program’s ninth PAC title and first piece of District 1 hardware secured, the Wildcats have the drive to go further.
That, and the firepower to take them there. Owen J. Roberts is nearing the end of an era that includes eight Division I seniors. The sole mission is to go the distance with a state title before walking the stage at graduation.
“Owen J. Roberts is not supposed to be in the District 1 Championship. It’s the Central League, or the Ches-Mont League, that’s typically where the champions come from,” Schlesinger said. “That’s what we kept preaching to these girls the whole year, is that you are creating something really special and unique. They’re really proud. And they’re not done.”
Owen J. Roberts 14, Penncrest 7
Penncrest: Stanton 3 goals; Harding 1 goal; Bigler 1 goal; Childs 1 goal; Roth 1 goal.
Owen J. Roberts: Vogelman 5 goals, 1 assist; Koury 3 goals, 1 assist; Milano 2 goals; Doyle 1 goal, 1 assist; Mullen 1 goal, 1 assist; Clemson 1 goal, 1 assist; Wasson 1 goal; Harrington 1 assist.