Saturday marks the culmination of several years of buildup for a super team. A squad of Avengers, Owen J. Roberts is in its endgame.
Ranked No. 13 in the nation (USA Lacrosse) and No. 1 by phillylacrosse.com — with eight seniors destined for NCAA Division I play — an undeniably stacked Wildcats roster has reached uncharted waters for the program with their first-ever appearance in the PIAA Class 3A final.
The state championship will be a rematch of the District 1 final, champion Owen J. Roberts (26-1) taking on runner-up Penncrest (21-4) at Penn State University’s Panzer Field at 12 p.m. Both programs are making their first appearance in the PIAA final.
“It’s such a big thing, it’s such a great feeling and we’re all so excited to be here,” senior midfielder Alexa Vogelman said. “You can tell our community and program are so excited to be here, you look up in the stands and see a sea of red.
“So many fans from all over come, past to present to future come to support us and it means the world to all of us to play, put on a show for them and show them what good lacrosse is like.”
Vogelman, a Syracuse commit, is a main cog in a machine that has outscored teams 433-78 this season. University of Florida signee Gabbi Koury — a two-time Mercury player of the year and the school’s all-time leading scorer — spearheads the offense alongside Vogelman. Both midfielders are three-time All-Americans sitting on 111 goals apiece this season.
Xavier pledge Colby Wasson — also an All-American — joins Koury and Vogelman at midfield and has supplied 31 goals and 12 assists. Ava Clemson (Butler) and Blakely Doyle (Liberty) bolster the three on a deeply potent senior attack. Clemson has scored 32 goals while Doyle has registered 38 goals and 17 assists.
Seniors Rachel Sbei (Furman), Avery Wentzel (Duquesne) and Cailin Harrington (Villanova) round out a stout defensive unit with junior Korrigan Sweeney in net. Sweeney holds a .702 save percentage this season, 158-for-225 between the pipes.
Kalli Mullen, on attack, is the ninth senior who will play her final varsity game on the biggest stage before continuing her academic and athletic careers at Haverford College.
“This senior class, this is it. We’re trying to give it all we have,” Vogelman said. “There’s nothing to lose at this point.”
Junior attack Sierra Milano and sophomore defender Ashly White are the non-seniors in the OJR starting lineup.
Penncrest has a dominant scoring threat in Kate Stanton. A Penn commit, the junior midfielder surpassed her 200th career goal against top-seeded Springfield-Delco, the Central League champion, in the District 1 tournament.
It was Stanton who chipped the Wildcats’ armor, scoring the opening goal in their last meeting en route to a first-half hat trick in the District 1 title game.
She starred in Penncrest’s 10-5 win over Springfield-Delco in Tuesday’s state semifinal. Stanton buried six goals, three on eight-meter shots to punch her squad’s ticket to Penn State.
Adisyn Bernhardt scored her 100th career goal against Pine Richland in the PIAA quarterfinals. Temple-bound junior midfielder Kathryn Harding is also a 100-goal scorer, while Kaitlyn Roth, Cara Childs and Lyla Pompetti provide key pieces of Penncrest’s offense as well.
Sophomore Reese Bigler has been a vital asset for the Lions this year, a machine for caused turnovers, ground ball control and creating transition opportunities.
University of Richmond commit Mira Kuttymartin is a standout on defense with Sara Knasiak in net. Knasiak earned her 100th save against Lower Merion in the second round of the District 1-3A tournament on May 18.
The Wildcats overcame defending state champion Conestoga, 6-4 in the state semifinals. The latest matchup against Conestoga was the third win for Owen J. Roberts against a gold-standard program that won three district titles (2017, 2019, 2022) and two state titles (2016, 2022) in recent years.
In all three meetings, Owen J. Roberts held a loaded Pioneers squad to just four goals each time (9-4 on March 25, 7-4 on May 25 in the District 1 semifinals, 6-4 in the PIAA semifinals) when no other team held them below seven.
“District 1 is such a powerhouse, every team is just such good competition. Conestoga is an excellent team and playing teams like them helps us get better,” Vogelman said. “They’re incredible competition, they teach us a lot and it helps us to grow.
“Going into the state tournament with such powerhouse district teams, Springfield or Penncrest, either would be a good match.”
The Lions drew five yellow cards against the Wildcats in the District 1 final, the latter capitalizing on man-up opportunities to pull ahead. Vogelman put away a game-high five goals, three in man-up situations.
The margin for error is always thin in big games, let alone state finals. It’s a lesson Owen J. Roberts knows well, the current roster having had their fair share of them.
“We use the phrase ‘emotional intelligence,’ really focusing in on that moment, that mental aspect of the game,” Vogelman said. “When you play in a big game like this, you have to stay in the moment. You have to be mentally sound. You have to be here, you have to be present.
“Going into that championship game, we have to find a way to keep that mental game very strong and very positive.”
The Wildcats already left a significant mark this postseason, becoming 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).
Owen J. Roberts is also the first Pioneer Athletic Conference team, between both boys and girls, to compete in a PIAA lacrosse final.
“We’ve done the work to get here. At this point, it’s just going out there and playing, and playing for one another,” Vogelman said. “Everything we do is together, and we preach that. We play together, win together, lose together.”
Owen J. Roberts’ rise to power over recent years has also grown the sport in Bucktown’s community. Following Saturday’s state final, the program is hosting a youth camp Monday through Thursday with 70-80 first-through-seventh graders signed up.
“The camp has just grown over the last several years,” Wildcats coach David Schlesinger said. “And as we’ve gotten better and better, it has a big impact on young girls in our community. The young girls revere the older girls. The counselors of the camp are the players. If we’re so fortunate to be state champions, that’s a big deal.”
The only loss on the year for Owen J. Roberts was to District 12-2A champion Archbishop Carroll, 8-6 on April 11. Archbishop Carroll, ranked No. 6 nationally (USA Lacrosse) and No. 1 in 2A by phillylacrosse.com, is also competing in the state final against District 3 champion Twin Valley at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Penncrest’s other three losses this year came in the regular season to heavy-hitters Conestoga, Springfield-Delco and Kennett after a 10-0 start to the spring.
One way or another, one program will hoist its first state trophy in the air by the end of the day this Saturday.
“At the beginning of the year, we sat down and put three goals out there,” Vogelman said, noting the PAC, District 1 and state titles. “We take every day one step at a time, one game at a time and we’re really focusing on living in the moment. We’re never looking ahead.”
With one game left, there’s only one direction to look now.