Cardinal O’Hara’s field hockey team brought home the Philadelphia Catholic League trophy for the third time in four years with a razor-thin victory over Archbishop Carroll, 1-0, in the league championship game Wednesday, Nov. 2 at Neumann University.
“It feels good,” said O’Hara head coach Marie Murphy. “We just wanted to keep our heads up.”
The Lions earned their place in the title game following a 2-0 semifinal win over Bonner Prendergast. Carroll had shut out St. Hubert, 6-0, in the semifinals to move on to this crucial game.
The Patriots had upset the Lions, 3-0, a late regular season game, spoiling O’Hara’s chances of finishing the year undefeated. This time, O’Hara was seeking revenge on Carroll and ultimately delivered.
The opening half came and went as the score remained 0-0. Carroll used a time out with 11:54 to play in the period but the Patriots did not get past O’Hara’s defenders.
After the halftime break, the Lions desperately tried to secure the game’s first goal. Less than four minutes into the new stanza, senior forward Hannah Nihill found the net and O’Hara gained a 1-0 lead. While Nihill officially scored unassisted, she credited the help of all her teammates on the field.
“The goal starts down on defense, then it goes to the midfield and then they hit it to me,” said Nihill. “It’s a team effort.”
After that, O’Hara kept moving and managed to stop Carroll for the remainder of regulation despite several close calls. The Patriots had a chance to tie the game on a penalty corner in the end, but O’Hara senior midfielder Annemarie Banes came through and got the ball out of the circle in time to call it a game.
“We’ve practiced defensive corners,” said senior goalkeeper Jen Ahearn. “We had to give it everything we had.”
Working hard in the midfield were senior midfielders Makayla Gallen, Emily Quintus and Banes. Ahearn (seven saves) paced O’Hara’s defense.
“I just kept telling myself that we needed to stop them,” said Ahearn. “Defense did amazing. We were talking nonstop and to help each other.”
Ellie Kent and Maddie Sutter were stalwarts on defense for Carroll along with senior goalkeeper Kimmy McGroary who made five saves.
Nihill’s game-winning goal marked her second important moment in one week. While that goal gave her team the Catholic League crown, Nihill scored her 100th career goal in a quarterfinal win over Archbishop Ryan. She registered a hat trick on the day and the second of those three goals turned out to be her milestone.
“It totally caught me off guard,” said Nihill. “It felt good.”
And all this from a player with only three years’ experience at the varsity level. Following the championship game, Nihill walked off the field with a total of 102 goals in her scholastic career.
“She’s worked really hard,” said Murphy. “It’s really a great accomplishment.”
With this outcome, Carroll missed its opportunity to move on to the state playoffs. O’Hara had already secured its spot in the PIAA Class AAA state tournament with its semifinal victory.
“We still have a couple of things to work on but I feel like we’ll be ready,” said Nihill of her team’s preparations for the tournament.
State playoffs are scheduled to begin Tuesday, Nov. 8.
“We really feel good,” said Murphy. “We’re optimistic, yet cautious.”