Ragdolls crowned champs

  • Ryan goalie Jazmin Gonzalez notched her 13th shutout of the season in the championship victory. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

  • Jules Blank set up Woods’ game-winning goal with a pretty assist. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

  • The Ragdolls hoist Taylor Woods on top of the championship pile after her goal in double overtime gave Ryan a 1-0 victory over Wood to repeat as Catholic League champs. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

  • Champs repeat: The Ryan girls soccer team celebrates its second consecutive league title. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

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.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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