On paper, last Wednesday evening’s Catholic League girls soccer semifinal match-up between top-seeded host Archbishop Ryan and St. Hubert didn’t appear to be much more than a championship tune-up for the undefeated Ragdolls.
After all, Ryan came into play with the league’s stingiest defense. Led by sophomore goalkeeper Jazmin Gonzales, the Ragdolls had only given up a stunning five goals in eighteen contests. Offensively, Ryan features several players with 10 or more goals, including team captain and All-Catholic midfielder Scarlett Walsh, who continues to set the pace with her outstanding play.
But, as they say, that’s why they don’t play the game on paper.
When Ryan and St. Hubert tangle, you can throw the statistics, individual honors and team records out the window. This rivalry has heated up as of late. Last season, the Ragdolls knocked St. Hubert out of the playoffs. They followed up this year with a 2-0 shutout of the Bambies during the regular season.
The close geographical location of the two schools adds to the intensity of the rivalry as both programs are stocked from a similar talent pool. Many of the girls participate in CYO and club team soccer and are familiar with each other prior to entering high school. Some are former teammates.
Briana Egenlauf, a junior forward for the Ragdolls, grew up in Lexington Park playing for St. Matthew CYO. She is friendly with nearly every member of the St. Hubert roster. The two-time All-Catholic performer chose Ryan after looking at both schools closely.
“It was a hard decision because I had a lot of friends that were going to St. Hubert, but I just felt like Ryan was a better fit for me,” Egenlauf said.
Despite a sluggish start for Egenlauf and her teammates on Wednesday, Ryan was able to strike first on a corner kick redirected in by Walsh for a 1-0 lead. Later in the half, St. Hubert responded when sophomore Cassidy Rajkowski scored the equalizer. Her goal energized the large contingent of Bambie fans that made the short trek north. The tying goal was bittersweet for Egenlauf.
“Cassidy is one of my best friends and it is always fun playing against her,” she said. “I was happy for her, but I had to concentrate on helping my team win.”
Archbishop Ryan coach Ryan Haney took advantage of the halftime intermission to refocus his team.
“I let the forwards know that they needed to pick it up,” a relieved Haney stated after the game.
The forwards responded in turn. Senior Gina Luciano scored the go-ahead goal for the Ragdolls less than two minutes into the second half. She later added a second insurance goal. The Somerton resident is enjoying this season-long run of success and attributes the team’s winning ways to the bonds that have been formed by the players.
“This season we have been closer off the field which has made us closer on the field,” Luciano explained.
Fellow forward Brittany Robinson also got into the mix, though not onto the scoreboard. Robinson sparked both her teammates and the Ryan faithful with two tightly contested breakaway shots on goal. The fans applauded the effort and the consistent pressure wasn’t lost on Haney.
“I love the fact that we regrouped at halftime,” Haney said. “The forwards really set the tone by applying pressure.”
Not to be left out of the mix amongst the forwards, Egenlauf contributed a second half assist as the Ragdolls overcame a spirited effort from the Bambies and came away with a hard fought 4-1 victory.
For the season, Egenlauf has collected 14 goals and 10 assists.
“Growing up in Hubert’s territory, this was a big game for me,” Egenlauf conceded. “Last year, I was injured during the playoffs and was forced to watch from the bench as we were eliminated. It wasn’t easy.”
When asked to describe the experience of being undefeated, Briana is quick to redirect the focus. “We are having a lot of fun and getting a lot of notice in school; however, we have to focus on finishing and getting the job done,” she noted.
Mission accomplished, as the Ragdolls knocked off Lansdale Catholic, 3-1, in Thursday night’s championship game. Forget about being the best team on paper — Archbishop Ryan is the best girls soccer team in the Catholic League. ••