RADNOR — The extracurricular history lesson this week involved a primary source – or rather two, working in tandem.
The first was Jake Solderitsch, the coach of Radnor’s girls soccer team and a 2000 Radnor graduate. Back in his day was the last time the school’s girls soccer team had done what his current squad is doing. Ahead of that last step Saturday, he went into the archives for a picture or two.
“The other day we had a practice and they showed us a photo from the 1999 team,” Radnor center back Olivia Kelley said Thursday. “We were just looking at it and we were like, wow this is an old photo. We’re like this next team that’s coming up and making history. It’s really cool.”
That team set the standard Radnor hopes to match on the same hallowed ground of HersheyPark Stadium. The District 1 Class 3A champs will take on District 7’s Mars Area in the PIAA final at 4 p.m. Saturday. The Raptors are the first Delaware County girls team since Strath Haven in 2002 to play for a state title. The last Radnor squad to win the title was that 1999 group.
The teams bear some odd similarities. Both are in the second-highest division (then, Class AA). Both came on the heels of a girls lacrosse state title the previous spring; Kelley and fellow defenders Telian Schwarz and Julie Breedveld were key members of that squad.
That experience informs the late-game steeliness that has defined this team, from Kate Boujoukos’ 77th-minute winner in the semifinal to the 78th-minute equalizer by Emily Daiutolo in the quarters.
“Looking back on it, it’s all about the journey,” Kelley said. “Starting off this season, I thought it was really important for me, Telly and Julie to be like, this is possible for us to bring this team to the state final. We kind of knew what it took, and what it really took was grit and everyone to work together and get us to that final state game.”
Few people are as aware of the distance from then to now as Alexandra Hill. She scored twice in that 1999 final, a 7-0 romp over Charleroi, including the opener after just 85 seconds. That “magical” team included two-time Daily Times player of the Year Nikki Lieb, while Ali Wean scored a final hat trick.
Hill would go on to work as an assistant coach for eight years at Conestoga, then as Haverford’s head coach from 2013-18.
The soccer landscape has changed in some key ways since Hill was a player. Her team won at a time when a significant chunk of schools still played in the spring, including a handful of District 3 outfits and Bucks County’s powerhouses. Hill points out that the 1999 team silenced doubters on several fronts, having beaten District 1 Class AAA champ Conestoga and PIAA Class AAA champ West Chester Henderson. Its only loss was to Strath Haven, which made the AAA state tourney. Radnor outscored opponents 17-1, in states, though its semifinal win over Southern Columbia in Hershey involved a come-from-behind 3-1 win.
“I remember all of our parents rallying around us because this was a team that had been together since we were really young,” she said. “I came in a little bit later, but I think most of the people on the team had been together since they were 5 or 6 years old. I remember that being an unbelievable time for the players and the parents.”
Hill went to Catholic school until eighth grade and was drawn to public school by Radnor’s soccer culture. At Conestoga and Haverford, two districts also subject to heavy private-school recruiting, she’s done the hard work of creating community and connection to entice talented players to stay.
“I remember as a coach trying so hard to get everyone that I knew was good to try to stay and sell them on the idea that we were really good and we could be good,” Hill said. “That was the community, in a way, and all the parents and the support system, that helps as well. And when you have a successful team, that’s an easier sell.”
This week, Kelley and her teammates are feeling the community support, in a way that echoes the buses that Hill saw flock to Hershey two decades ago. They had boisterous crowd support at Methacton for Tuesday’s semifinal, relishing in a long-awaited run of success. During that period, the Radnor boys program has made two state finals, the last in 2018 to a Wilson team that vacated its title for fielding an ineligible player.
Kelley knows the excitement of a states chase.
“I think it’s the same level of excitement (as lacrosse), maybe even more so for soccer because I feel like everyone is really supporting us,” she said. “We kind of didn’t really believe that we could go this far, but now that we’ve made it, it definitely feels achievable.”
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