A few fresh legs

Guided by a fusion of veteran talent and young faces, the St. Hubert soccer team is finding its identity. With two of its stars leading the way, the Bambies may prove tough to stop.

Seni­or guid­ance: With the help of seni­or for­ward Biff Jones (left, 11 goals), fresh­man Kylie Bowers (six goals) has had a break­out in­aug­ur­al sea­son. ED MOR­RONE / TIMES PHOTO

Kylie Bowers had just scored the biggest goal of her brief high school soc­cer ca­reer, though the uber-shy fresh­man’s re­ac­tion nev­er showed it.

As long as her foot keeps do­ing the talk­ing for her, that’s just fine for the Bam­bies of St. Hubert.

Bowers de­pos­ited the game-win­ning goal about halfway through the second over­time in a 2-1, come-from-be­hind vic­tory at pre­vi­ously un­defeated Little Flower last Thursday. She was on the re­ceiv­ing end of a pass from seni­or for­ward Eliza­beth “Biff” Jones, who had scored the goal that tied the game at 1 with 29 minutes to go in the second half.

It was a state­ment win for a team still try­ing to find its way while blend­ing ex­per­i­enced play­ers like Jones with fresh­men such as Bowers, mid­field­er Domi­n­ique Calio and goalie Bri­anna Pudlo, with the lat­ter two already slid­ing in­to start­ing roles. Bowers wasn’t in the start­ing lineup, but she has scored in five con­sec­ut­ive games (the last three of them wins), and her six total goals have served as a burst of en­ergy for a team look­ing to hit its stride through nine games.

When asked to break down how her win­ning goal de­veloped, the poker-faced fresh­man barely squeaked, “I just stood there, she (Jones) passed it to me and I hit it in.” And had it sunk in yet that a fresh­man who could count her num­ber of varsity games played on two hands had just dealt one of the team’s biggest rivals its first loss of the sea­son?

“I guess not,” she said with a laugh.

Bowers’ tim­id nature by no means in­dic­ates that she’s not thrilled by her sud­den emer­gence. Rather, she’s more of an ex­ample of an ex­tremely young play­er, who just star­ted high school less than a month ago, still com­ing out of her shell. It will most cer­tainly take time for her con­fid­ence to de­vel­op; in the mean­time, she hasn’t shied away from the spot­light on the field, as her play has done plenty of talk­ing for her.

“We’re al­ways yelling at her, just try­ing to show her it’s OK to be vo­cal out there,” Jones said. “The young play­ers are do­ing well, and we just keep en­cour­aging them. As our coach al­ways tells us, it doesn’t mat­ter what grade you’re in … when you’re out there on that field, you’re a soc­cer play­er like every­one else.”

Long­time head coach Mick Mc­Groarty has shown no reti­cence in put­ting his young­er play­ers out there. In some in­stances, he hasn’t had a choice — in the case of Pudlo, Mc­Groarty has her in net be­cause starter Emily Jef­frey is in­jured. Pudlo, like Bowers, was fant­ast­ic against Little Flower (6-1-1, 4-1-1 league), mak­ing sev­er­al huge saves as her team climbed back in­to it. 

The win was some­what of a turn­ing point for the Bam­bies (6-3, 4-1), who have some­times struggled with con­sist­ency in the sea­son’s early chapters. Fol­low­ing the Little Flower win, St. Hubert made short work of Chichester (4-0) and Neu­mann-Gor­etti (8-1) and was tied for third in the league with Arch­bish­op Ry­an when the Times went to press.

“We figured it was go­ing to take some time for the fresh­men to catch on, chem­istry wise,” Mc­Groarty said. “Like a chess match, we’re still try­ing to find the right pieces to put in the right spots. We had five fresh­men and three sopho­mores play­ing in the Little Flower game, and all of them have dif­fer­ent styles and abil­it­ies. We’re still fig­ur­ing out how to mesh it all to­geth­er.”

Mc­Groarty has been around long enough to know that the best way to build con­fid­ence in in­ex­per­i­enced play­ers is to throw them right in­to the mix from the get-go, for­cing them to earn their stripes in the Cath­ol­ic League in a bap­tism-by-fire type of scen­ario. So far, they’ve re­spon­ded.

For Bowers, it was a goal scored in the Bam­bies’ tight 3-2 loss to Ry­an, one of the top teams in the city, on Sept. 17 that made her be­lieve she be­longed. Pudlo, fresh up from the JV team, looked like a seasoned vet­er­an between the posts against Little Flower.

“I thought Bri­anna has looked calm, cool and col­lec­ted, and she’s made the saves she’s had to make, some of them pretty de­cent,” Mc­Groarty said. “And for Kylie, I think she’s start­ing to get the idea. In the be­gin­ning, her con­fid­ence was a little down. I think she found out it’s much harder than ex­pec­ted at the varsity level. Her per­son­al­ity is sub­dued and she doesn’t say much, but most fresh­men tend to stay with­drawn.

“She’s more of a fol­low­er now, but I think that lead­er­ship is there. In the game at Ry­an, there were prob­ably around 500 people there, maybe more, and she played really well on that stage. She’s start­ing to get the idea that if she puts forth the ef­fort, she’ll get a good res­ult. It’s start­ing to come around.”

Of course, it cer­tainly helps hav­ing such an ex­per­i­enced play­er up top in Jones, who is equally ad­ept in scor­ing goals as she is in cap­tain­ing the Bam­bie ship. Also a standout bas­ket­ball play­er, the hard-nosed, tough Jones already has four multi-goal games, and 11 total in nine games. 

Can the Bam­bies hang around in the rough and tumble Cath­ol­ic League, which fea­tures plenty of tal­en­ted teams like Little Flower, Wood, Lans­dale Cath­ol­ic and Ry­an? Jones thinks so.

“It feels good to come back strong from that loss to Ry­an, be­cause we felt we could have won that game,” she said. “It just gives us con­fid­ence. After a game like this, it makes me think we’ve got a shot to get to the cham­pi­on­ship. We’re still get­ting used to each oth­er. I haven’t played with a lot of these girls be­fore this year, so we’re just start­ing to click. We’re ready for the chal­lenge, and we want to play the best teams.”

As far as the Bam­bies’ post­season pro­spects, Mc­Groarty offered a, “We’re still a work in pro­gress, so we’ll see.” But if the young­sters keep com­ing along while Jones con­tin­ues scor­ing goals at such a rap­id rate, they’ll have as good a shot as any­one. So far, Bowers is just en­joy­ing the ride, even if she doesn’t al­ways let on to that fact.

“My team­mates are al­ways help­ing me and al­ways telling me that I’m do­ing well,” she said. “They’re al­ways try­ing to help. I’m just really happy.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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