— It’s been a strange soccer season for the Bambies, who eliminated Little Flower to keep their title hopes alive.
What was supposed to be a festive occasion had turned into a circus, and even though they were the jesters, no one was laughing.
In fact, no one was even talking.
“We didn’t know what happened,” said senior Claire Alminde. “Seriously, no one could explain it.”
It was Oct. 16, and the St. Hubert soccer team had just lost its season finale to Lansdale Catholic by a seemingly impossible 6-1 score, low-lighted by a five-goal outburst in the second half. Not only was it on the Bambies’ home turf, but also the game took place on the much-anticipated Senior Day.
But instead of hanging around and taking pictures after the game, the bewildered players and coaches collected their belongings and left as quickly as possible.
This past Saturday, the scene was completely different.
Led by a balanced scoring attack, an all-around stingy defense and timely goaltending by freshman Emily Jeffrey, visiting St. Hubert defeated Little Flower, 3-0, in a Catholic League quarterfinal contest and advanced to the semifinals to face top-seeded Archbishop Ryan, who blanked the Bambies, 2-0, on Sept. 24. The undefeated Ragdolls reached the semis with a 3-0 win over Archbishop Carroll behind senior Scarlett Walsh’s two goals. (The game between Ryan and St. Hubert was played on Wednesday evening after the Times went to press.)
“I think our last two games motivated us coming into the playoffs,” said Alminde, referring to the Lansdale Catholic debacle and a 1-0 loss to Little Flower four days earlier. “I don’t know if we could ever play as badly as we did against Lansdale. I can’t even begin to describe it because it was that bad. We just didn’t do anything right.”
Senior defender Alyssa Bollard, a returning second-team All-Catholic selection, admitted she had been “thoroughly embarrassed” by how poorly St. Hubert performed against Lansdale. Mickey McGroarty said he had never seen anything quite like it during his four decades as head coach.
However, both Bollard and the longtime coach were confident that the Bambies would regroup.
“It was an anomaly,” McGroarty said. “Everything fell apart. We all talked about it. We just had to put it behind us.”
Since she shares team captain duties with seniors Alminde, Jacqui DeRocini, and Vickie Formica, an undaunted Bollard felt it was her duty to instill some occasional verbal motivation during the pre-playoff practices.
Bollard didn’t stop there. After goals by Alminde and sophomore Cassidy Rajkowski had given the Bambies a 2-0 lead late in the first half on Saturday, Bollard collected her teammates for an impromptu meeting.
“I just told them not to let down even a little bit,” she said. “We didn’t want to give Little Flower anything. They’re our rivals and they’re a very good team. I just wanted us to make sure we focused on defense and getting everything out of our end instead of trying for more offense.”
But more offense came anyway in the opening minutes of the second half when Alminde helped set up junior Caroline Price for an insurance tally. While most of the plentiful fans in attendance probably figured the victory was secure, the Bambies were preaching just the opposite on the field because nothing had been clinched quite yet.
Now in desperation mode, Little Flower would surely play with reckless abandon for the final 40 minutes.
“I felt good about our situation, but I wasn’t completely confident,” Alminde said. “They can score in a hurry.”
Alminde said the triumph avenged a still unsettling, 1-0 loss to Little Flower in the league quarterfinals back in 2011. It also allowed the St. Hubert seniors their first ever trip to the second round of the postseason.
Considering that their high school was scheduled for the chopping block in 2012 before winning a reprieve, the senior Bambies had much to celebrate.
“I have thought about how different things would have been for all of us if we had closed,” said Alminde, also a basketball and softball player and student council president at the school. “I’ve thought about that a lot. We received a second life, and it’s nice that we’ve done a lot with it and still have more to do.”
In a season that has seen McGroarty — the first and only head soccer coach at the school — collect his 400th career victory, Bollard said she not only feels satisfied about how well the Bambies have jelled, but also how strong the program appears to be heading forward.
“I couldn’t ask anything more from my teammates,” Bollard said. “I feel like when the senior class graduates, we will be fine for the next few years.
“I’m happy for our coaches, especially (McGroarty). He started Catholic League soccer, so if it weren’t for him, maybe none of us would have ever had a chance to even play. I respect him a lot.” ••