Northeast Times

Ragdolls’ reign atop the Catholic League continuing

  • Archbishop Ryan head girls soccer coach Ryan Haney is searching for his fourth Catholic League title in nine seasons at the helm of the Ragdolls program. TIMES FILE PHOTO

  • Ryan keeper Jazmin Gonzalez is part of a suffocating back line that has allowed just four goals all season. TIMES FILE PHOTO

  • The Ragdolls euphorically celebrated a Catholic League championship in 2012. Will a repeat follow in 2013? TIMES FILE PHOTO

In 2012, the Arch­bish­op Ry­an girls soc­cer team didn’t lose its first game of the sea­son un­til Nov. 6. It was the Rag­dolls’ only blem­ish of the sea­son, a 1-0 first round state tour­na­ment de­feat at the hands of Cent­ral Bucks West.

The win punc­tu­ated a 19-1-1 sea­son that saw Ry­an march un­defeated to­ward head coach Ry­an Haney’s third Cath­ol­ic League title in eight years. And as good as it felt to win one of the more chal­len­ging leagues in the state without a loss, the 2012 ver­sion of the Rag­dolls felt the ride had been cut short, like a roller coast­er ab­ruptly halt­ing halfway up the hill.

Fast for­ward nearly a year later. This time around, the Rag­dolls lost their first game of the sea­son on Sept. 5, a 1-0 home heart­break­er to league nemes­is Arch­bish­op Wood. 

More than a month after that de­feat, Haney’s group again sits tied atop the Cath­ol­ic League stand­ings, the Wood loss the lone slip-up in a sea­son that is shap­ing up to look a lot like the one that pre­ceded it. Only this time, the Rag­dolls hope to march un­beaten through the league’s post­season all the way to a state title, as a loss in early Septem­ber would cer­tainly carry less sting than one in early Novem­ber.

“Every game means something, and every team comes to play us like it’s their cham­pi­on­ship,” said ju­ni­or sweep­er Kaitlyn Mc­Fad­den, who an­chors a back line (also fea­tur­ing flankers Taylor Adair and Tayah Nau­dascher, as well as ju­ni­or goalie Jazmin Gonza­lez) that has al­lowed just four goals in 15 games. “So that Wood loss, I guess it was a bad one and good one all at once. It made us bet­ter as a team. Since it happened, we’ve be­come closer as a group. We learned ex­actly what we needed to im­prove upon, which was fin­ish­ing our chances, and I think we’ve done that.”

It’s hard to ar­gue with Mc­Fad­den’s as­sess­ment. Since the early-sea­son loss, the Rag­dolls have ripped off 13 straight wins and, as of Tues­day, sat perched atop the Cath­ol­ic League stand­ings — along­side Wood — with 24 points. 

Ry­an has needed every one of them. Not only have the Vik­ings kept pace, but Little Flower, St. Hubert and Lans­dale Cath­ol­ic were all with­in three points or few­er of first place with just a couple of reg­u­lar sea­son games left to play. With last year’s team set­ting the stand­ard for ex­cel­lence, it hasn’t been as dif­fi­cult an act for the 2013 Rag­doll group to fol­low as one might ex­pect.

“You have a bunch of girls around you striv­ing for the same goal, so you nev­er feel alone out there,” said sopho­more for­ward Ju­li­ane Blank, who leads the team with 10 goals and 27 points. “A lot of us grew up near each oth­er, play­ing to­geth­er on the same club teams. We know each oth­er’s strengths and weak­nesses. Each year, we’ve got­ten bet­ter as a res­ult.”

So much of Ry­an’s suc­cess is due to the fact that so many young play­ers got thrown right in­to the fire im­me­di­ately in 2012; thusly, the emer­gence of these girls off­set the losses of ex­plos­ive scorers like Brit­tany Robin­son and Scar­lett Walsh.

Sopho­more mid­field­er Taylor Woods, third on the team with eight goals and second with 25 points, called the Rag­dolls “a team full of mov­ing, in­ter­change­able parts.” While they may no longer have a sin­gu­lar su­per­star like Walsh whom op­pon­ents will spend all game double team­ing, they usu­ally do have 11 cap­able play­ers on the field who col­lect­ively com­ple­ment each oth­er’s strengths. As a res­ult, there’s been more bal­ance in the scor­ing column: at­tached to the team’s 52 total tal­lies are 18 dif­fer­ent goal-scorers. 

“I think at the be­gin­ning we wondered where the of­fense might come from, but they’ve ad­ap­ted,” said Haney, now 34-2-1 since the 2012 sea­son began. “Last year, they were con­tent to pass off to Scar­lett or Brit­tany; now, with im­proved con­fid­ence, they know they can make those runs them­selves. We start sev­en sopho­mores and two ju­ni­ors right now, and all of them have been in that mix, step­ping up as lead­ers.”

The smoth­er­ing de­fense and goal­tend­ing have al­lowed the young­er Rag­dolls to play looser out there, al­low­ing the of­fense to come to them. They haven’t scored as much as Wood (20 less goals in league play), but there’s still usu­ally no short­age of chances throughout any giv­en game for Ry­an. For the most part, the Rag­dolls have cashed in, as their 9:1 goal dif­fer­en­tial mark in league con­tests in­dic­ates.

“We just went through this all last year, so we know what to ex­pect,” Mc­Fad­den said. “Every single girl on this team has stepped her game up, and the fact that we’ve all done our jobs well makes up for the fact that we’re a young team. We’re all just really ex­cited. This sea­son has been a priv­ilege.”

Haney him­self said the sys­tem he had in place from the 2012 group has trans­ferred over without a hitch, or as he put it, “keep­ing it simple and filling in parts.” Woods has come out of nowhere with her pro­duc­tion at cen­ter-mid­field, the po­s­i­tion Walsh manned so well in the past. Be­cause of this, Blank was moved up top along­side seni­or Bri­ana Egen­lauf, and that duo has com­bined for 19 goals.

“We al­ways stress de­fense first, be­cause as long as we pos­sess the ball, we know the oth­er team can’t score,” Haney said. “We stress to score one early, then not to give any up. It’s been suc­cess­ful so far, and hope­fully we con­tin­ue it.”

No mat­ter how the sea­son ends, one thing is per­fectly clear: with 34 wins and count­ing since the start of last sea­son, Haney has mol­ded to­geth­er a spe­cial group of tal­en­ted young win­ners. The school has ral­lied around the Rag­dolls, with over­flow crowds com­ing out to sup­port the team in some of the sched­ule’s biggest games. This will cer­tainly play to Ry­an’s ad­vant­age in the post­season, as both the semi­finals and cham­pi­on­ship game will be played in late Oc­to­ber at George Todt Field, which hosts the fi­nal two rounds of the girls and boys post­season con­tests.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate the sup­port, and we want to win for the school, for our team­mates, for the seni­ors,” Mc­Fad­den said. 

“They want to win it as much as we do,” Blank ad­ded of the team’s many sup­port­ers. “You can see it when they show up to the games with signs and shirts and their faces painted. That’s what you play for all year.”

Woods, whose un­ex­pec­ted ex­plo­sion in the mid­field has helped cre­ate a ripple ef­fect of vari­ety on the score­sheet, had some poignant thoughts in clos­ing.

“I know every­one says it, but we do feel very much like a fam­ily,” she said. “Be­ing a part of this team, it just takes your mind off everything else. For me, Ry­an is more of a home away from home than it is a school. We all en­joy com­ing here to go to work. Not every­one can say they get to be a part of something like this.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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