Over the course of a storybook season like this one, there are no singular heroes. In establishing such a standard of excellence, stars reveal themselves on the field of play just as they might when shooting across the night sky.
There are many of them, rising up in the most critical of moments, refusing to quit on a goal set in stone months ago. Yes, the 2013 Archbishop Ryan girls soccer team was chock full of these types, a group that has managed to lose just two games the past two seasons en route to consecutive Catholic League championships despite being mostly young in class standing.
It was no different this past Sunday as the Ragdolls rose up once more, vanquishing an Archbishop Wood team that no girl on this team had ever beaten, be it the roster’s four seniors or first-year players whose history with the Vikings dates to Sept. 5, when Wood dealt Ryan its first and only loss of the season, a 1-0 decision the players hoped to get back in the postseason.
Boy, did they ever.
The clock on the day’s second overtime had just began to tick away, with the thought of penalty kicks deciding the season looming over George Todt Field. But a pair of sophomores just wouldn’t have it. So it was Jules Blank (a First Team All-Catholic and all-state selection who had fired one off the crossbar in the first overtime) who spun around her defender off a throw-in and placed a perfect through-ball toward the Wood goal. Waiting for it in stride was Taylor Woods (First Team All-Catholic), who somehow managed to untangle herself from two defenders and slip one past a goalie who had practically stood on her head all day.
“We just knew we wanted to beat Wood because we hadn’t in so many years,” an elated Woods said in the moments following the biggest goal of her life. “The girl on me was trying to push me out of the way, so I just pushed back. It was an amazing pass by Jules. We were wrestling for the ball, and I was able to kick it in. And then I heard everyone screaming, and it was the best feeling ever.”
The moment would have been a special one no matter the opponent, but this victory meant a little bit more if only because the Ragdolls were finally able to get a Viking-sized monkey off their backs.
“They’re a very good team and have been for years,” Blank said. “We tried to look at it as just another game … but it’s just better knowing it came against Wood.”
It’s easy to look at the goal scorer and the one who set her up as the biggest heroes, but that would be selling the rest of this Ragdoll group short.
There was senior forward Briana Egenlauf (First Team All-Catholic), who put her team on this stage by tallying a hat trick in Ryan’s 4-0 semifinal win over Lansdale Catholic; there was fellow senior Taylor Adair, the veteran member of a defensive unit that smothered opponents all year; then there were the kids who never played like kids, most notably the rest of Adair’s back line: sophomore Tayah Naudascher and juniors Kaitlyn McFadden (First Team All-Catholic and all-state sweeper) and Jazmin Gonzalez (First Team All-Catholic goalie), who recorded shutouts in 13 of Ryan’s 20 wins this season.
But the question still remained: in a group with so few seniors, how was this group able to dominate so thoroughly?
“You know, I think we just don’t know any better,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just the chemistry we’ve built from working together all year long. I feel like we all know, going into every game, that we’re going to get the other team’s best. We just know what we have to do. We’re so close off the field, and I think you can see that when watching us play together.”
Gonzalez said that she and McFadden, also teammates on the United German Hungarian Club, have played so long together that the two leaders of the Ryan defense just instinctively know how to play off each other’s strengths. It’s a big reason why the Ragdolls allowed just nine goals in 21 games. The defense has been so good that it’s taken pressure off the front line and allowed players like Woods (14 goals, tied with Egenlauf for most on the team) and Blank (12 goals, a team-leading 14 assists) to get into a rhythm playing with each other. The Ragdolls haven’t looked back since.
“When I was little, I remember my dad taking me to the Ryan games,” Gonzalez said. “I remember watching (current assistant coach) Megan Tole her senior year (in 2008), and her number is retired in the school. I remember watching her put away Wood in the championship after not beating them in forever, and I just knew, ‘I want to go there. I want to play here and do that.’”
Tole’s goal back in the 2008 title game was the last time the Ragdolls had beaten Wood prior to Sunday. Now, with the league title again firmly in hand, Ryan will likely be heading off to the state tournament after Wednesday’s District 12 championship match-up with Public League winner Franklin Towne Charter. The Ragdolls got to states in 2012, losing in the first round to Central Bucks West; now, with another year of experience under its belt, this group is out to prove it is the best soccer team in all of Pennsylvania.
“Our next goal is to keep this team together and win states,” Woods said. “And I think we have the potential to do it.”
Another one of this team’s heroes, the architect, head coach Ryan Haney, agreed.
“I keep telling them, November 16 in Hershey, we need to be in that game,” Haney said after winning his fourth league title in nine years. “We have the talent to be in that game, and from the moment we lost to C.B. West last year, we knew this team wanted to go on a run. With the talent we have, why not go try to win a state title?”
Even if they don’t, Haney can take solace in knowing that almost his entire roster will return next season. The Ragdolls will have to replace Egenlauf up top and Adair on the back line, and they’ve proven worthy of doing so in the past, plugging Woods and Blank on offense in place of graduated seniors Scarlett Walsh and Brittany Robinson.
With the state tournament and defending another league title in 2014 to look forward to, it’s a safe assumption that a new batch of heroes will emerge yet again for this program.
“It’s so exciting,” Gonzalez said. “Honestly, I was so anxious back there, but I knew we were going to get one eventually. I just felt it when the game started. I kept saying to myself back there, ‘We need one, we need one,’ and we got one. Now, we’ll get to go compete against the best teams in the state. We want to see how far we can go.” ••