— 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.”
THANKS FOR THE ASSIST
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.
ALL FOR ONE
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.”
SHE HAS HIGH HOPES
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?” ••