With the waning seconds ticking away in Monday night’s Public League girls soccer championship, a handful of eager young male fans ran excitedly through the bleachers at Northeast High School wearing just their undergarments. After all that this Franklin Towne Charter group has given the school the last three years, supporters must be running out of ways to thank head coach Brianna O’Donnell’s team.
Eccentric signs of approval notwithstanding, Towne did knock off Central, 5-1, to earn the team its third straight Public League crown. It was the final show of bravado for a record-setting senior class that brought the school its first ever league title in the spring of 2012 before blitzkrieging its way to the next two with dominant, brutish force.
Senior Rachel Gilborges scored her school-record 84th career goal to open the scoring late in the first half. Her partner-in-crime up top, Stefanie Ulmer, added career goals 59, 60 and 61 to go with a professional-level cross to set up sophomore Megan Stapf’s tally, the third of the game that put the Lancers away after they had cut the deficit to 2-1. And though the high-scoring duo was thrilled they would depart Towne as senior champions, both admitted sadness that their magical run had come to an end.
“The three-peat is exciting, but it’s our last one,” Ulmer said. “We won’t ever play together again as a team. Half of us have been playing together since we were 8. But to do what we did three times in a row … it’s unexplainable.”
Actually, Towne will play again Wednesday night in the District 12 city championship against Archbishop Ryan, but this is the one the players really craved. Towne brought on a changing of a guard in the Public League; prior to this senior class’ emergence, Central had ruled the league for nearly a decade. Now, Gilborges, Ulmer and company hand the reins to underclassmen they believe are ready to carry the torch after winning 58 games together at the school.
“We didn’t want to end it any other way,” Gilborges said. “It’s exciting to end it with a bang. Now, it’s up to the juniors. We wish we could stay longer, but we pass it on.”
“We set the foundation for the next I don’t know how many years,” said senior goalie Alivia Dietsch, who made several highlight-reel saves. “I hope it continues. We are a proud group of girls … I’ve been with most of them since I was little, so it’s great to be able to look back and say, ‘Oh, we made history.’”
Will it be easy to replace 145 goals from its top two players, as well as a starting goalie, sweeper (Gilborges’ twin sister, Rebecca) and five other seniors? For sure not, but Stapf (whom O’Donnell raved about before the game) and junior captain Devon Keller will be back, and O’Donnell is excited to see how the underclassmen respond to such a lofty precedent set by the graduating seniors.
“They took ownership of it,” O’Donnell said. “It’s been a treat to coach them. Looking at the scoreboard and the way we dominated the second half, I’m glad they got to showcase it, to prove they were the best team. They deserved it.” ••