Talk of the Towne

Ju­ni­or cap­tains Rachel Gil­borges (left) and Stefanie Ulmer lead a high-powered of­fens­ive charge for Frank­lin Towne Charter. The team won its first Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship last sea­son and have their sights firmly set on an­oth­er. PHOTO COUR­TESY FRANK­LIN

— With three straight wins over girls soc­cer king­pin Cent­ral, it’s get­ting much more dif­fi­cult to ig­nore Frank­lin Towne Charter.


Now that they have pried the title away from long­time cham­pi­on Cent­ral, the Frank­lin Towne Charter girls soc­cer team plans on keep­ing it that way.

Heck, they don’t plan on los­ing an­oth­er game, so long as Rachel Gil­borges and Stefanie Ulmer have any­thing to do with it.

The ju­ni­or cap­tains for Towne rep­res­ent one of the most of­fens­ively ex­plos­ive du­os in the area. In their sopho­more sea­son at the school, Gil­borges and Ulmer led a chan­ging of the guard in Pub­lic League girls soc­cer. Cent­ral hadn’t lost a league con­test in al­most a dec­ade un­til Towne knocked them off in last year’s reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale, be­fore do­ing so again nine days later in the cham­pi­on­ship game.

Now, Gil­borges, Ulmer and the rest of coach Bri­anna O’Don­nell’s squad are an­oth­er sea­son older and wiser. On Fri­day af­ter­noon, they meth­od­ic­ally picked Cent­ral apart in the second half of a reg­u­lar sea­son league match-up. A 1-1 game at half­time turned in­to a 7-1 laugh­er, with Ulmer net­ting three second-half goals and Gil­borges adding scores of her own in each half. Had the fi­nal whistle nev­er blown, it’s safe to say Towne would have kept pep­per­ing the net with goals un­til dark­ness en­vel­oped the field at Vo­gt Play­ground. After 117 con­sec­ut­ive Pub­lic League wins and eight straight titles, Cent­ral has now lost three in a row to Towne.

“After the first half, we just real­ized we could have done bet­ter,” Gil­borges said af­ter­ward. “We want to dom­in­ate the whole time. Our goal is an un­defeated sea­son. We don’t want to give the trophy back.”


What ap­peared to be an­oth­er hard-fought game quickly spiraled out of con­trol for Cent­ral, which used two goalies and still had no an­swer for O’Don­nell’s re­lent­less of­fens­ive at­tack and stingy de­fense, a unit anchored by Gil­borges’ twin sis­ter, Re­becca.

“If Stef and I are cap­tains of the of­fense, then Becca is the cap­tain of the de­fense,” Rachel said. “If she tells us to move up, then we move up. What Becca says, goes.”

Des­pite be­ing dy­nam­ite scorers, there is no selfish­ness evid­ent between Towne’s two top of­fens­ive threats. Hat tricks are not un­com­mon on any giv­en day for either play­er (Rachel Gil­borges nearly equaled the feat in the fi­nal minutes of the game, but her best chance sailed wide); and they do com­pete against each oth­er, but just not in the way that many would ex­pect from two play­ers ac­cus­tomed to scor­ing goals in bunches.

“They ac­tu­ally get on each oth­er the most about as­sists,” O’Don­nell said. “They al­ways want to know how they’re do­ing set­ting each oth­er up, and it’s unique at this level to be con­cerned with how good of a pass­er you are. Rachel will run through a brick wall for you, while Stef is more of a fin­esse play­er. They’re per­fect com­ple­ments for one an­oth­er.”

Armed with a roster con­tain­ing just two seni­ors, it’s a safe as­sump­tion that the Pub­lic League girls cham­pi­on­ship will go through Towne for the fore­see­able fu­ture. In ad­di­tion to the Gil­borges twins and Ulmer, ju­ni­or Am­ber Ko­stick and sopho­more Sarah Shot­well also scored against Cent­ral, and they have plenty more fire­power where that came from. Ju­ni­or goalie Alivia Di­etsch, though not tested much, was sol­id between the posts. Most im­port­antly, the play­ers know their roles, and the res­ults have been re­sound­ing.


Much of Towne’s suc­cess can be at­trib­uted to the girls’ fa­mili­ar­ity with one an­oth­er. Hail­ing pre­dom­in­antly from neigh­bor­hoods near the school, such as Brides­burg and Port Rich­mond, most of them grew up to­geth­er and have been play­ing on the same teams for years.

“We’re all each oth­er’s biggest mo­tiv­at­ors,” Ulmer said. “If one of us has a bad day, the rest of us are there to crack each oth­er up. We push each oth­er, and really, we’re just used to each oth­er at this point. We’ve been play­ing to­geth­er forever.”

The vic­tory over Cent­ral pushed Towne to a per­fect 4-0 at press time, and they now have net­ted three straight vic­tor­ies over the Lan­cers. It surely didn’t hap­pen overnight, as Towne has had to scratch and claw its way to the top, as well as fight for re­cog­ni­tion amongst more-es­tab­lished area pub­lic schools such as Frank­ford, Wash­ing­ton and North­east.

Es­tab­lished in 2000, the school, at 5301 Ta­cony St., has a 98 per­cent gradu­ation rate, ac­cord­ing to its web­site (93 per­cent of those stu­dents go on to col­lege). Ath­let­ic suc­cess has cer­tainly helped put the school on the map — the boys soc­cer pro­gram, helmed by North Cath­ol­ic alum Den­nis Drumm, is be­com­ing highly re­spec­ted in its own right, and Ulmer and Rachel Gil­borges also play for the bas­ket­ball team, which O’Don­nell coaches.

“The fact that our pro­gram has done well only makes our school stronger as a whole,” O’Don­nell said. “Kids want to come to school to learn, play sports, get in­volved and sup­port their fel­low stu­dents. It’s something to be proud of.”


With a tar­get stead­ily placed on their backs, Towne’s next chal­lenge comes in main­tain­ing and sus­tain­ing its re­cent dom­in­a­tion on the soc­cer field. With Gil­borges and Ulmer serving as school am­bas­sad­ors on the front lines, O’Don­nell ex­pects the suc­cess to con­tin­ue for the rest of their ten­ure at Towne — and hope­fully bey­ond.

“They’re lead­ers in the school,” O’Don­nell said. “People know them and know who they are. There’s a level of re­spons­ib­il­ity for them to carry them­selves a cer­tain way. They need to be ex­cel­lent stu­dents in ad­di­tion to their tal­ents on the field, be­cause these are the types of kids we want to draw once their time has come and gone. Their com­mit­ment has not dis­ap­poin­ted me at all.”

As Gil­borges noted, “All of us com­ing in here at the same time, we had a vis­ion that we could really make something hap­pen. We just kind of said to ourselves, ‘Our four years here are go­ing to be cham­pi­on­ship years.’”

At best, Towne will have to settle for three in four years, but for now they’re just fo­cus­ing on their quest to re­peat. Surely Cent­ral was none too pleased about giv­ing up six straight goals in the second half; likely, Towne will see the Lan­cers again come play­off time, and when they do, they’ll need to be ready to face an angry, venge­ful team.

For the mo­ment, it’s Towne’s time, and the girls plan on over­stay­ing their wel­come at the top for as long as they can.

“Once last sea­son came to­geth­er, I had a pretty good idea that it was our time,” said O’Don­nell, the soc­cer coach since 2009 and bas­ket­ball coach since ’04. “I had sort of set it in my head that if we didn’t do it now, then I’d be dis­ap­poin­ted in my­self for not do­ing a bet­ter coach­ing job. Those ex­pect­a­tions come with a lot of pres­sure, but the girls have em­braced it.”

After be­ing crowned cham­pi­ons for the first time in school his­tory, it’s hard to ima­gine them not do­ing so.

“In the huddle be­fore every game, we say what needs to be done and we go out and do it,” Ulmer said. “We want to keep it go­ing. Why would we want to give the trophy back now?” ••

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