By John Knebels
Special to The CS&T
PHILADELPHIA – Christina Zambito wondered if there was something wrong with the game clock.
Well, not really. Deep down, she knew the final two minutes of the Catholic League girls’ soccer championship was winding down in true form. But it sure didn’t seem that way.
“They had to be the longest two minutes of my entire life,” said Zambito. “I just wanted the game to be over.”
Two minutes after the Archbishop Ryan senior scored the most important goal of her life, the whistle finally blew, and the victorious Ragdolls raced toward their goal to celebrate their second consecutive Catholic League championship.
The Ragolls’ 1-0 win over Archbishop Wood followed a 3-0 win over Wood in last year’s final. This triumph was by far more intense.
“That first half was really tough, and I was happy we came out of it scoreless,” said gregarious Ryan coach Ryan Haney. “They had some chances and we were fortunate they weren’t able to cash in.”
At the age of 29, Haney is the youngest head coach in the Catholic League but also among the most decorated. This title was Haney’s sixth as a member of the Catholic League. The 1997 Ryan graduate won two as a player for the Raiders, two as an assistant coach under Ryan boys’ coach George Todt and now two as the girls’ head coach.
He reminded his girls that he knew what he was talking about during a halftime chat. He had not been pleased with the Ragdolls’ sometimes less-than-energetic first-half play and reminded them to seize the moment.
“I told them they had to go out and attack, go out and take it,” said Haney. “This was their chance.”
Haney’s motivational words seem to have helped as Ryan played a more spirited second half. However, stingy defenses by both teams and solid goaltending by Ryan’s Jess Koci and Wood’s Marikate Cook kept the game scoreless.
But with two minutes left, Ryan sophomore Kelsey Stevens, who days earlier had pushed the Ragdolls into the championship by scoring an overtime goal against favored Little Flower in the league semifinal, took a shot that was stopped by Cook.
The rebound came directly to Zambito, who was simultaneously being knocked to the ground by a Wood defender. However, a sliding Zambito somehow managed to tap the ball into the cage, and Ryan’s sideline erupted.
Although she scored the final goal of last year’s championship and provided the game-tying tally in the aforementioned overtime victory over Little Flower in this year’s semifinal, Zambito said it’s difficult to imagine this goal being topped in overall importance.
“I know it’s something I’ll never forget,” she said. “Being the defending champions made it tougher this year, but it also made winning the championship that much more special.”
Haney credited the front line of Zambito, Stevens and senior Megan Tole with supplying constant pressure on the opposing defenses.
“They have gotten better and better,” said Haney. “They are really playing well. The whole team is. We definitely picked a great time to get hot.”
Archbishop Wood and Little Flower undoubtedly disagree.