Ragdolls’ reign atop the Catholic League continuing

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

  • 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

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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