It didn’t matter that it was about 40 degrees outside and most of the spectators in the stands were bundled up in sweatshirts, gloves and winter hats in a feeble attempt to keep warm.
No, it’s never too cold for a customary Gatorade shower after winning a big game, in this case the girls’ soccer Public League championship.
Just ask Rachel Gilborges.
In last Wednesday’s title game, Gilborges, a junior captain and goal-scoring machine for Franklin Towne Charter, deposited her 37th — and most important — goal of the season into the back of the net. She scored off a rebound with less than seven minutes to go in Towne’s eventual 1-0 title win over Central. After Central had won eight straight soccer titles, Gilborges and company have now won the last two.
And for her efforts, Gilborges was rewarded with gallons of freezing liquid dumped on top of her, normally an “honor” reserved for the head coach.
“They got me last year,” head coach Brianna O’Donnell said. “I’m too smart for that.”
In fact, O’Donnell was even in on the stunt, distracting Rachel while two teammates — twin sister (and starting sweeper) Rebecca and fellow prolific goal-scorer Stefanie Ulmer — did the deed.
“Becca said, ‘Let’s dump it on Rachel,’ and I was like, ‘OK, that’s perfectly fine, as long as it’s not on me,” Ulmer said with a laugh.
Deadpanned Rachel Gilborges, who was a good sport about her teammates’ efforts to give her pneumonia: “I’m a little chilly.”
Ulmer started the play that resulted in Gilborges’ goal, which was no surprise to anyone who has seen this Towne team play. Both are capable of scoring goals in bunches, and usually do; however, this night victory was a little more difficult for a team that had been accustomed to winning a lot of games by the score of seven, eight or nine to zero.
Even though Gilborges and Ulmer were peppering the Central goal all night, nothing was getting through. A small semblance of doubt began to creep in that the Towne girls would suffer the same fate as their male counterparts, who took a 1-0 loss to Northeast immediately before the girls title game.
But ultimately the tandem came through, even if it took them longer than usual.
“Thank God she followed up is all I can say,” said Ulmer, who, like Gilborges, was named to the All-Public first team. “I didn’t know where the ball was after I put it on net, but I wasn’t surprised. If I missed, I knew she’d be behind me. She always is.”
Soccer at Towne, which sits on the edge of the Tacony-Bridesburg border, has exploded recently for both the girls’ and boys’ teams. The boys reached their first title game this season, and O’Donnell’s bunch went 13-0 in league play to claim their second consecutive crown.
“It’s a big deal that we got to experience it with the boys team,” said Gilborges, adding with a laugh that she’s “gotta wait a little bit” to poke fun at the boys for falling short in their quest for a championship.
However, there will be no love lost. “We’re all friends,” Ulmer said. “We all know each other from the neighborhood and have classes together. It’s been an exciting time.”
Things will probably stay exciting for the girls’ team, which will graduate only two seniors. Most of the team, including Gilborges and Ulmer, will be back for their senior season, a scary thought for the rest of the league.
“I’m from Northeast Philly, so I know how important sports are to high school education,” said O’Donnell, also a teacher and the girls’ basketball coach at Towne. “We’ve been building toward getting here, and tonight we had more fans than we’ve ever had at a game. If we keep building, it will only keep growing.”
The next logical step for this team is to try to bridge the gap between the Public and Catholic League. It didn’t happen this season, as Towne lost the following night, 7-1, to Archbishop Ryan in the District 12 city title game, sending the Ragdolls to the state tournament and Towne home. In fact, all of Towne’s losses this season came at the hands of Catholic programs — twice to Ryan and once to Little Flower by a combined score of 14-1. There’s still work to be done, which should keep this talented group motivated.
“It’s harder competition,” Ulmer said. “They work a lot harder than a lot of the teams we play all year, so it will take us pushing ourselves 200 percent to get to that level.”
“We talk about it,” Gilborges added. “People say the Public League is less talented, but we want to show we belong up there with them.”
For now, Towne will enjoy its second straight league title. The girls have accomplished a lot these past two seasons, and they want to keep the ball rolling.
“We had to go out and get it and work for every inch out there,” Gilborges concluded before she raced off to try to find warmth. “And we did just that.” ••