Once upon a time, long before his tenure as the St. Hubert soccer coach began, Mick McGroarty was a goalie. Now approaching his 400th career coaching victory, the longtime Bambies boss is digging into his vault of experience in hopes of helping along his freshman goaltender.
Last season, the Bambies fell in the Catholic League quarterfinals to Archbishop Ryan and then had to endure the uncertainty about whether the school would close. When the Archdiocese granted St. Hubert a reprieve, the soccer team immediately began looking forward to the 2012 season. With 11 seniors on the roster, there was a lot to look forward to.
Then, the injury bug bit hard, leaving the Bambies with a breadth of experience everywhere but in goal, as 5-foot-2 freshman Emily Jeffrey was the team’s only available option in net.
So far, the results have been mixed as St. Hubert deals with a still-learning keeper while trying to get as healthy as possible for a playoff run. Standing at 3-4 after Monday’s 2-0 loss to Archbishop Ryan, there have been plenty of obstacles thus far; but if there’s one thing the St. Hubert community knows, it’s overcoming unexpected bumps in the road.
“For Emily, it’s on-the-job training,” McGroarty said. “I’ve told her if she doesn’t learn a lot this season, then shame on her. This is a season where she’s really going to be tested. We’ve been trying to teach her how to smother the ball and possess it, when possible. She’s got to learn that, and we’re going to keep drilling it into her as the season continues.”
Added Archbishop Ryan head coach Ryan Haney on Monday: “She shouldn’t be underestimated because of her lack of size. She’s very active and quick moving from post to post. She did well and saved the ones she should have saved. She didn’t give us too much to take advantage of.”
McGroarty was speaking after last Thursday’s 2-1 home loss to Archbishop Wood, the reigning league champion and presumptive 2012 frontrunners after winning six of seven to open the season. After a back-and-forth first half that resulted in zero goals, the Bambies struck first less than five minutes into the second half, when junior midfielder Elizabeth “Biff” Jones deposited a loose ball in front of the Wood goalie into the net.
From there, Wood’s urgency picked up, and the Vikings’ Jess Scarpello showed why the Catholic League title will continue to go through her school. First, Scarpello blasted a beautiful shot from 25 yards out over Jeffrey’s head to tie the score. Then, Wood went ahead to stay off a direct kick from Katherine Hennessey. Hennessey perfectly led Scarpello to the goal, and she did the rest, depositing the ball into the bottom left corner of the net.
For his part, McGroarty believed his team played well enough to win, or at least tie. But in the unforgiving Catholic League that is at least eight-strong at the top including Wood at St. Hubert (Ryan and Little Flower are other local contenders, while Cardinal O’Hara, Archbishop Carroll, Lansdale Catholic and Conwell-Egan boast reputable squads, as well), playing good enough for a tie often won’t be good enough.
“From that point on when we scored the first goal, you could see there was more of a sense of urgency from them,” McGroarty said. “What disappointed me was the last ten to twelve minutes where we weren’t really passing or possessing the ball. It was almost like we were playing ‘panic ball.’ We can’t win that way, unless we’re playing an inexperienced, less-talented team, which we obviously weren’t.”
The Bambies hope bouncing back from injuries will ultimately allow them to find a level of consistency. In addition to Jeffrey’s ongoing maturation in goal, St. Hubert’s offense has sometimes undergone re-alignment, as well. The team’s most recognizable player, All-Catholic selection Claire Alminde, had to shift from forward back to center midfielder against the Vikings in place of freshman Juliana Caranci, who was out with a concussion.
“We had three injured starters on the bench, which hurt,” McGroarty said. “They’re all good players. So we had to move Claire from forward to center-mid; she’s good there, but up front she scores. We had to manipulate some chess pieces around the board to do what we needed to do. We missed Caranci, who is a dogged player with a lot of grit to her game.”
In a sense, the early season losses to Wood and Ryan showed the Bambies what they need to work on the most. As McGroarty said, “I don’t think we’ve played bad. We just had a couple of lapses in certain periods of games that have cost us.”
And as long as the Bambies focus on what they do well as they continue to get healthier, the wins should come.