The Franklin Towne Charter girl’s soccer team does not get the publicity they deserve, largely due to Central’s dominance over the past decade.
That has changed, now that Franklin Towne, or Towne for short, won its first Public League championship on Friday with a 2-1 victory over its chief rival.
Towne has played second fiddle to Central for many, many years. In fact, Central has won the last eight Philadelphia Public championships. And to make maters more interesting, Towne has been Central’s opponent for the last seven of them.
This year, Towne focused on changing that. They are a young, talented, high-energy bunch of girls, coached by Brianna O’Donnell, who has an intense passion for the game and her team. O’Donnell, regarded by some as the loudest coach in the league, is in her third season as head coach.
The team’s motto: 25 and 1.
“The 25 and 1 comes from our roster of 25 girls and the agreement they made at the beginning of the season to make sacrifices individually for the good of the team,” O’Donnell said.
“Rachel is probably the top athlete at Franklin Towne,” said Coach O’Donnell. “She runs cross country, plays point guard for our school’s basketball team, and is the captain of the soccer team.”
O’Donnell continued to rave about her star player.
“I think the quality that makes her stand out from other high school athletes is her work ethic,” O’Donnell said. “She is the first girl on my team to step on the field and the last one to leave. I’m not exaggerating. Her soccer skills cannot be matched by anyone we have played in the Public League. She has great ball control, can put an outstanding amount of power behind her kicks, and her speed allows her to control the midfield when our team is on offense or defense.”
What about the pressure of being a sophomore captain?
“I like it,” Gilborges said. “It’s something I have to live up to. Something that motivates me when I play.”
Rachel’s twin sister, Rebecca, is the sweeper for Towne. Rachel and Rebecca have been soccer teammates for their entire lives.
“This is a great group of sophomores,” O’Donnell said. “Rebecca is the leader of our defense.”
Central and Towne met twice during the regular season this year. The first match-up went as many expected, a 5-3 Central victory. However, when the two teams met for the rematch at Franklin Towne Charter’s field for the last regular season game of the year, Towne shocked Central with a 2-1 victory. It was Central’s first Public League loss in an astonishing 117 games.
In sports, momentum can ignite and motivate teams like nothing else, and a team with momentum is dangerous. The win over Central gave Towne the momentum the team needed heading into their playoff run.
The second-seeded Coyotes headed into their semifinal game against Philadelphia Academy Charter High School (No. 3) (PACHS), after watching Central (No. 1) defeat Masterman (No. 4) in the first half of the semifinals.
PACHS and Towne met twice during the regular season, with Towne winning both times by a combined score of 9-3. In any sport, however, it is tough to beat a team three times in a row, and O’Donnell didn’t want her team overlooking anyone.
“I wanted to assure them all of this hard work could get spoiled with a loss. I didn’t want this to get spoiled for us,” O’Donnell said. “That’s what I told them before the game.”
PACHS came out strong and pressured Towne throughout the game. Nevertheless, Towne proved once again to be too much for PACHS to handle, grinding out a 3-1 victory.
The biggest difference in the semifinal game was sophomore midfielder and Towne’s second leading scorer, Stefanie Ulmer. Ulmer had all three of Towne’s goals, including a jaw-dropping 25-yard free kick, which she buried in the top right corner of the net.
“I scored four goals against them the first time we played,” she noted, talking about previous success.
Defensively, Towne was very solid as well. Rachel Gilborges shifted her focus to the defensive side of the ball, trying to slow down PACHS’ best offensive player, Tori Coates.
ldquo;I was defensive-oriented today,” explained Gilborges. “I just have to do whatever the coach needs me to do to win.”
Both sophomores, Gilborges and Ulmer have been close friends for a while, and played soccer together on a travel team before high school. Gilborges spoke highly of Ulmer and her performance.
“Stef is a huge part of the team,” Gilborges said. “She had an amazing game.”
Towne advanced to play Central on Friday at Northeast High School.
The biggest adjustment that O’Donnell made was moving Rachel Gilborges to stopper in the first half, a rather sloppy one at that, with Central scoring the only goal of the half.
Adversity was staring Towne right in the face, something they had been familiar with, especially against Central.
Gilborges was moved back to mid-fielder, her original position, to start the second half. And just like that, about 15 minutes into the second half, Gilborges tied the game at one on a bullet to the back of the net. The pressure quickly shifted to Central, and the intensity of the game elevated.
With eight minutes remaining in the game, Towne sophomore Amber Kostick sent a corner kick in the direction of sophomore Maja Udovicki. Udovicki one-timed the pass into the back of the net, a magnificent goal, giving Towne a 2-1 lead. Goalkeeper Alivia Dietsch (13 saves) played a flawless second half and stayed strong for the final eight minutes. Behind an assembly of sophomores, a pair of twin sisters, some senior leadership, superb goaltending, an enthusiastic coach and a simple motto of “25 and 1,” Towne won the Public League championship for the first time in school history with a 2-1 win.
“When Central scored the first goal our team didn’t quit,” Rachel Gilborges said. “We knew this was our year. In the second half, when the score was still 1-0, we realized we had to come out even harder and leave our hearts on the field. That’s what we did and now we’re champions. 25 and 1 was our team motto this year and we won as a team.”
“It was a great effort by all my teammates,” added Ulmer. “It felt great to be a part of Towne history. My girls have heart and we proved that yesterday.”
The Towne girls really did embody their team motto through their play and emotion. Instead of simply being a team, they became a family in a short amount of time. ••EndFragment