John Knebels

The Catholic League soccer championship is set for both genders.

In a 1:00/4:00 p.m. doubleheader October 26 at James Ramp Memorial Recreation Center, Archbishop Ryan and Archbishop Wood will meet for the girls’ title, followed by La Salle and Roman Catholic clashing for the boys’ crown.

“Anytime we get the chance to play in the final is satisfying,” said La Salle coach Tom McCaffery. “I think the fact that we got back here this year with so many quality teams in a testament to the tremendous student athletes I am fortunate to work with.”

McCaffery’s Explorers are the top seed after an 11-1 regular season. On October 23 at the Trifecta Sporting Club in Trevose, LaSalle defeated Archbishop Ryan in the semifinals, a 4-3 decision that appeared easy in the beginning but turned out to be a major scare.

Seven-seed Ryan had stunned two-seed Father Judge in the quarterfinals. After falling behind La Salle, 2-0, the Raiders scored two quick goals. La Salle then took a 3-2 lead into halftime. The Explorers extended their advantage to 4-2. Ryan crept to within 4-3 but couldn’t find the equalizer.

“It’s hard to relax with so much on the line,” said La Salle junior Ben Herron, who netted La Salle’s fourth goal. “The two-goal lead definitely gave us some breathing room, but Ryan came right back and scored a third to put the pressure right back on us.”

In the semifinal that followed La Salle’s victory, Roman Catholic reached the championship via a more traditional, low-scoring route. A goal by senior Kieran Donnelly after a perfect corner kick by senior Sebastian Gonzalez gave the Cahillites a 1-0 lead over five-seed, defending champion Archbishop Wood with 29 minutes left in regulation. A staunch defense and strong goaltending by senior Kevin Tobin made it stand.

The three-seed Cahillites have reached the Catholic League final six straight seasons. They last won the crown in 2015. LaSalle then followed with back-to-back titles.

“Not that it’s been an easy pass more than any other year, but the ‘any team, any night’ persona of the league this year definitely makes it a little more rewarding,” said Roman coach Ray DeStephanis, referring to a soccer season that has maintained uncommon parity. “Truly an interesting and challenging season.”

In a girls’ semifinal doubleheader at Trifecta on October 24, two-seed Archbishop Wood defeated three-seed, defending champion Lansdale Catholic, 2-0. Top-seed Archbishop Ryan then stopped four-seed Little Flower, 3-0.

Ryan is searching for its first title since 2017 and sixth since 2012. Wood last seized gold in 2016.

“It’s my senior year, and I want to finish the season strong with a PCL Championship and hopefully continue on and make a deep run into states,” said Ryan senior Gianna Monaco, who assisted on two goals. “We’re fit, confident, and ready to play.”

Wood senior Emily Branchide realizes the Vikings have quite a challenge. Ryan was the only Catholic League team to beat Wood, 2-1, on September 16. If they can play as well as they did against Lansdale Catholic, said Branchide, the Vikings should be in good shape.

“We remained dominant most of the game and stood our ground,” she said. “We knew we just had to go out there and play the way we know how to, and I believe we accomplished that.

“It showed what this team is capable of. But now it’s time to take care of business on Saturday. It’s one of the biggest rivalries of girls’ soccer in the Philadelphia Area in the final.”

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Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.