Power shift: Towne soccer ends Central's run

— For the bet­ter part of a dec­ade, Cent­ral was on top of the Pub­lic League girls soc­cer scene; now, it's Towne's time.

The Frank­lin Towne Charter girls soc­cer team pose after knock­ing off Cent­ral High School 2-1 in Fri­day’s Pub­lic League Cham­pi­on­ship Game, May 25, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Photo cour­tesy Bri­anna O’Don­nell/Frank­lin Towne Charter ath­let­ics)


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.

The cap­tain of the team is sopho­more mid­field­er Rachel Gil­borges. Gil­borges grew up three blocks from Towne in Brides­burg and is a three-sport varsity ath­lete.

“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. ••


You can reach at andrew.porter@cbsradio.com.

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