On Sept. 30, La Salle and Roman Catholic played to a 2-2 tie in a riveting Catholic League soccer contest. Before that game, and in those that followed, neither team was defeated.
The trend continued in the playoffs. Defending champion and third-seed Roman Catholic (10-0-3) stopped sixth-seed Lansdale Catholic in the quarterfinals and second-seed Father Judge in Wednesday night’s (Oct. 26) semifinals; top-seed La Salle (11-0-2) toppled ninth-seed St. Joseph’s Prep in the quarters and fourth-seed Archbishop Wood in the semis.
Tomorrow, Oct. 29, in a game scheduled to begin at 5 p.m., one of those juggernauts will suffer its first league loss in the second half of a doubleheader (Lansdale Catholic meets Archbishop Wood in the Catholic League girls’ final at 2:30) at South Philadelphia’s Super Site at 10th and Bigler Streets. It won’t be pretty, but the battle promises to be legendary.
“I’m feeling really excited,” said Roman Catholic standout senior defenseman Artie Dolan. “It feels great to get a big win against a good team and get back to the final for the third year in a row and try and go back-to-back.”
Although he understands the rationale, Dolan elected not to dwell on last year’s team that startled then-undefeated Father Judge in the championship.
“That was last year, and this year is obviously different just like every team is different since then,” said Dolan. “We’re not gonna worry about them being undefeated. We’re just gonna come prepared like we’ve done every game this season.”
In the first meeting between the two teams, Roman grabbed a 1-0 lead, fell behind 2-1, and then tied the game late. With the way both teams are playing defense lately, the rematch promises to include fewer goals.
“It will help a little going through it last year,” said Roman coach Ray DeStephanis. “We just have to answer the challenge as a defending champion. When you graduate who we did it’s hard to replace those players. This group needs time to find out who they are and how they can win together in their way.”
La Salle, meanwhile, survived a major scare in its win over Wood, but dominance in post-overtime penalty kicks proved to be the difference.
“It was crazy how little the margin for error was,” said La Salle coach Tom McCaffery. “Our guys were able to stay composed and execute.”
As does his adversary, McCaffery retains tremendous respect for his opponent.
“I am expecting another really difficult game in the championship,” said McCaffery. “Roman has proven to be one of the hardest working teams in the league and have not let up any goals so far in the playoffs. We will have to match their intensity and execute our game plan perfectly if we want to win.
“This group of seniors has lost to Roman two years in a row and I think it would be great for them to get a win against a team that has tested them for so long.”
Taking a feed from junior Jared Fielding, whose overtime goal had beaten Lansdale Catholic in the quarterfinal, Roman senior Aidan Meissler scored the game winner against Judge with 17 minutes remaining in the second half. Freshman goalie Kevin Tobin and his defense made it stand.
Meissler said he “felt a ton of exhilaration” as the ball crossed the goal line.
“It was a great feeling,” said Meissler. “It was the kind of thing players dream about, and to get to help out the team like that and represent Roman was an amazing feeling.”
Meissler isn’t making any predictions about the final.
“La Salle is a great team and it’s going to be a great game,” said Meissler. “We just have to go out there and do what we’re capable of doing so we can get a win.”
La Salle senior James Hughes, who scored the Explorers’ regulation goal that was ultimately followed by successful penalty kicks from senior Mike D’Angelo, sophomore Cole Hammel, and sophomore Dave Steinbeck while junior goalie Brett Werner surrendered a measly one, is taking a similar approach.
“It felt really good to contribute to finally get over the hurdle of the semifinals after two straight years of losing there,” said Hughes. “I am really happy that we have a chance of winning a trophy on Saturday.”
The Catholic League girls’ soccer championship will feature Lansdale Catholic and Archbishop Wood, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29 at South Philadelphia’s Super Site at 10th and Bigler Streets.
Sarah Cooney’s goal in the 80th minute, off one of Lena Staropoli’s two assists, pushed LC past Archbishop Ryan, 2-1, thus avenging last year’s championship loss to the Ragdolls.
In Wood’s 3-1 conquest of St. Hubert, Sophia Filippo scored two goals and Caitlyn Cliggett added another, as the Vikings survived a 1-0 deficit.
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @johnknebels.