Non-league contests.

Coaches talk about their importance. The top programs try to schedule the most difficult competition possible as a way to better prepare their players for the arduous challenges that lie directly ahead in the Philadelphia Catholic League.

“I feel like every game is a big game,” said Archbishop Ryan football coach Bill Murphy. “But when you get into league games, they have a different feel for sure.”

Archbishop Carroll football coach Kyle Detweiler concurred.

“Our non-league schedule is critically important in preparing our team for league play,” said Detweiler, whose three non-league opponents compiled a collective 8-1 record. “We feel battle tested and ready for what’s coming next.

“I will say, though, that there’s definitely a different energy when league play starts and you certainly feel it when you are grinding through the league schedule week in and week out.”

Attendance also increases when PCL squads meet. Because the league has broken into two divisions in most sports, more rivalries have developed in addition to the already-established neighborhood bragger’s rights.

This weekend, the eight teams that comprise PCL Blue Division football will commence. On Friday, Archbishop Carroll visits Bonner-Prendergast while Neumann-Goretti takes on Lansdale Catholic. On Saturday, Cardinal O’Hara takes on host West Catholic while visiting Conwell-Egan faces Archbishop Ryan.

The five-team PCL Red Division begins on the weekend of September 30.

“Since the Catholic League season officially starts up this week, the team is real focused and locked in as usual,” said Bonner-Prendergast junior Austin Cannon. “We are a real good team and have each other’s backs. I know each player on the team is getting more excited and hyped up.”

One of the great things about mid-September is that every team shares the same objective; namely, win a title.

“We are gonna have to be ready one game at a time and stay mentally ready throughout the rest of the season,” said Cannon. “We have three goals this year and it is to be PCL champs, then city league champs, and win a state championship.”

Boys’ soccer and girls’ soccer already started. For the boys, traditional powers LaSalle, Roman Catholic, Father Judge, and St. Joseph’s Prep are 2-0 while Archbishop Ryan is 1-0-1.

Two great games highlighted the first day of division play. Two-time defending champion LaSalle received an overtime goal by junior C.J. Massella to defeat Archbishop Wood, 2-1. Conwell-Egan fought favored Archbishop Ryan to a scoreless tie.

“I was definitely hoping for the upset win to start off the season,” said Conwell-Egan senior Dillon Farrell. “It was a hard fought 100 minutes of soccer.”

In girls’ soccer, defending champion Archbishop Wood is off to a 2-0 start. The Vikings will host Archbishop Ryan on September 22 in a rematch of last year’s final, won by Wood, 3-1.

In field hockey, Archbishop Carroll and Cardinal O’Hara have dominated the PCL. Last year, Carroll defeated O’Hara, 2-1, in a double-overtime classic. This avenged a 3-2 overtime O’Hara victory in 2019. Carroll also defeated O’Hara, 2-0, in the 2018 final; in 2016, O’Hara edged Carroll, 1-0. In between, in 2017, Bonner-Prendergast nipped Carroll, 3-2, in overtime.

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 (Contact John Knebels at jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)