HERSHEY - Spring-Ford’s goal of a Class AAA state championship in girls soccer came up short Nov. 16 at Hersheypark Stadium.
The Rams saw their quest end with a heartbreaking 2-1 overtime loss to undefeated Neshaminy (25-0).
Junior midfielder Amy Mandia scored the game-winning goal for the District 1 champion Redskins off a perfect pass from sophomore forward Gabby Farrell 3:56 into the 20-minute sudden-victory overtime period.
The Rams, the fifth-seeded team from District 1, forced the overtime session when senior midfielder Sammy Stipa knocked home a feed from senior forward Aley Kate McKinley with 2:05 remaining in regulation time off a corner kick opportunity.
Senior forward Megan Schafer tallied the first Neshaminy goal with an assist by senior defender Amy Heller in the sixth minute of the contest.
Spring-Ford ended its outstanding season at 24-3-1 overall under third-year head coach Sheldon Chamberlain, a former collegiate men’s and women’s coach at the Division I level at Villanova and La Salle. The Rams upset number one seed Cumberland Valley, 2-1, in the first round of the state playoffs to vault into contention for the state championship.
The Rams suffered a bad break when leading scorer Megan Giannopoulos, a senior midfielder, was forced out of the game with a serious left ankle injury with 29:38 showing in the first half.
Later, sophomore midfielder Gabrielle Vagnozzi, another standout performer, left the game with a right knee injury with 3:31 left in the first half. But she was bandaged up and returned to action with 19 minutes left in the second half.
Still, all of the Rams stepped up their play and had several close chances in the battle. The defense also came up big against the talented Redskins, who reached the state semifinals last year, including junior goalie Jenna Griggs and backs like sophomore Laura Suero, sophomore Taylor Newhart, senior Julie Pennington, senior Kaitlyn Dougherty and senior Kristen Baumgartner.
Spring-Ford has 11 seniors (seven starters), nine juniors and five sophomores on its roster. The Rams have taken tremendous strides after recording a losing season two years ago. This year they made the Pioneer Athletic Conference Final Four playoffs for the first time and went on to capture the league championship.
“They are a great bunch of girls,” Chamberlain said after the Rams received their silver medals and state runner-up team trophy. “They are amazing. They are awesome.”
Spring-Ford hopes to use this season as a springboard to more great seasons in the future.
“It’s a building block,” said Chamberlain, who was assisted by Liz Caggiano and Tim Leyland.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the past three months,” said McKinley. “So many people wrote us off. But we are a family and a great team. We just didn’t come up in overtime.”
This year’s team set the standards high for younger players to follow their lead.
“We are leaving a legacy behind,” said McKinley. “I am just really proud of the team and the way and how much we worked every week.”
She spoke about Neshaminy.
“They are the best team we’ve played all season,” said McKinley. “They have so much talent and they really know how to play soccer.”
She said the 11 seniors knew it was the final game of their scholastic careers and wanted to give it their all. The players wanted to leave everything on the field, and they did just that.
Stipa had played on Spring-Ford’s state championship girls basketball team last winter so she was able to offer some advice to her teammates.
“I definitely know what it’s like to play for a state championship,” said Stipa. “I tell them when we’re down on the ground, we come together as a team. This was our dream. We’re a team and we can come back.”
Stipa said it was definitely a motivating factor to play harder after the loss of Giannopoulos and while Vagnozzi was out of the lineup as well.
“we developed so much,” said Stipa. “We played a great game. Everyone played their best for the team.”