Ragdolls armed and dangerous entering 2014

  • Ryan Haney has won four Catholic League titles in nine years as the Ragdolls’ head coach.

  • Goalkeeper Jazmin Gonzalez is closing in on the school-record for shutouts. She’ll play her college soccer at Charleston Southern.

  • Getting the ball rolling: All-Catholic and All-State sweeper Kaitlyn McFadden (right) is back for the loaded Ryan girls soccer team looking for a three-peat. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

Des­pite win­ning 21 of its 23 games in 2013, what the Arch­bish­op Ry­an girls soc­cer team re­mem­bers most about how last sea­son ended is the quiet de­jec­tion.

The Rag­dolls have not for­got­ten the dis­ap­point­ment or the sour, bit­ter taste it left in their mouths; in fact, they’ve had nine months to think about it, to the point where it’s seared in­to their grey mat­ter, a dan­ger­ous pro­spect for the rest of the league that Ry­an has owned the last two sea­sons.

After van­quish­ing arch­nemes­is Arch­bish­op Wood to win the pro­gram’s second straight Cath­ol­ic League title, and fourth in nine years un­der head coach Ry­an Haney, the Rag­dolls took their foot off the gas and were un­ce­re­mo­ni­ously bounced from the first round of the PI­AA Class AAA state play­offs by Cent­ral Bucks East. A young, loaded team with such prom­ise ended its cam­paign with a ‘snake­bit­ten’ ef­fort, as Haney put it at the time.

“We all re­mem­ber how it felt to lose that game,” said ju­ni­or Taylor Woods, who scored the cham­pi­on­ship-win­ning goal against Wood in double over­time as a sopho­more. “The bus ride home, it was just com­pletely si­lent.”

The early 2013 exit was all the Rag­dolls could talk about dur­ing Monday’s first day of prac­tice head­ing in­to the 2014 sea­son, and a group with so many re­turn­ing stars is aim­ing to rec­ti­fy past short­com­ings this time around. Hav­ing gradu­ated just two starters from last year’s team that went 21-2 — for­ward Bri­ana Egen­lauf and right full­back Taylor Adair — it’s safe to say Haney’s group has its eyes fixed solely on a much-big­ger prize.

“I’m in a pretty unique situ­ation, as far as re­turn­ing play­ers go,” Haney said. “We want to keep ourselves healthy and put ourselves in a place to make a run at the state cham­pi­on­ship. The Cath­ol­ic League, some­times they think that’s the end-all, be-all, but we’ve got great ath­letes, maybe six to sev­en girls be­ing re­cruited to play at the Di­vi­sion-I level. There’s no reas­on why we can’t com­pete at the state level and do something dif­fer­ent for the school. The league, that’s im­port­ant … but it’s just the first goal.”

And this is by no means a put­ting-the-cart-be­fore-the-horse scen­ario. In a league as good as the Cath­ol­ic League, Haney and com­pany know noth­ing will be handed to them simply based on past suc­cesses. At the same time, the Ry­an play­ers know full well what it takes to win in this league, and they have no plans on let­ting up their in­tens­ity level; if any­thing, the fo­cus is fiercer than ever.

“For us, we’re ready to do the im­possible,” said seni­or sweep­er Kaitlyn Mc­Fad­den, an All-Cath­ol­ic and All-State se­lec­tion a year ago who will play her col­lege soc­cer at West Chester. “It’s def­in­itely mo­tiv­a­tion giv­en how last year ended, and for me at least, it’s my last shot at it. We don’t want to have that feel­ing any­more of end­ing our sea­son with a loss. We like to chal­lenge ourselves and set big goals.”

“Every year we want to get a little farther, so we try to set our goals a little high­er,” echoed seni­or goal­keep­er Jazmin Gonza­lez, who re­cently com­mit­ted to Char­le­ston South­ern Uni­versity. “We want to be the Cath­ol­ic League team that makes it far in states. At the same time, we real­ize every­one wants to beat our team be­cause of the suc­cess we’ve had. We real­ize those ac­com­plish­ments don’t mat­ter now. If we don’t stay calm, cool and col­lec­ted, it could be a whole dif­fer­ent out­come.”

If Mc­Fad­den, Gonza­lez and the rest of the team stay healthy and play to their usu­al cap­ab­il­it­ies, there’s no reas­on to be­lieve the team should fall short of an­oth­er league title in 2014. Gonza­lez is a shutout ma­chine and, after post­ing 14 a year ago, is clos­ing in on the school re­cord of 49 set by Nicki Sin­clair; she and Mc­Fad­den, who have been club soc­cer team­mates since they were 8 years old, were a ma­jor reas­on why the stingy Rag­dolls al­lowed just 11 goals in 23 games in 2014 while scor­ing 85 of their own.

“This year, we don’t want to let up any goals,” Mc­Fad­den said, half-jok­ingly but also half-mat­ter of factly. 

“A shutout every game,” re­in­forced Gonza­lez, her part­ner-in-crime. “No goals.”

It’s a team that thinks big, and why wouldn’t it? After win­ning the title in 2012, the 2013 Rag­dolls proved to be an of­fens­ive ma­chine dom­in­ated largely by two sopho­mores — Woods, who had 16 goals and a team-lead­ing 14 as­sists, and Ju­les Blank, an All-State se­lec­tion who led the Rag­dolls with 20 goals stacked against 10 as­sists. 

Oth­er key re­turnees in­clude mid­field­er Ca­sey Rodgers and full­back Tayah Nau­dascher, who said a strong team chem­istry will again be a key de­term­in­ing factor in how far the Rag­dolls will go this sea­son.

“We all get along really well, and I think you see that when we’re out on the field,” Nau­dascher said. “We boost each oth­er’s con­fid­ence. We’ve moved up the lad­der to­geth­er, and I think as a res­ult we’ve got­ten bet­ter as a whole.”

Haney said Blank and Mc­Fad­den were nurs­ing nag­ging in­jur­ies that were rem­nants from their club sea­sons, and al­though the two were lim­ited par­ti­cipants in prac­tice on day one, it won’t be any­thing to slow them down when the sea­son starts in a few weeks.

“Even after one day, to see how much every­one has im­proved over the off­season is awe­some,” Blank said. “This year, I think we’ll be es­pe­cially in sync. It’s an­noy­ing for us to think about how we lost in the first round of states the last two sea­sons; every­body has their eyes on the prize. It’s what we’ve thought about all sum­mer … all year, really. 

“We saw against Wood how it all came down to one play. On any giv­en day, any­one can win. Every game is pretty close. It comes down to who’s more fit, who wants it more and who can put the ball in the back of the net. There’s a reas­on for everything. These girls, they’ve been here be­fore, and we want to fin­ish it with a state title.”

And des­pite the fact that the Rag­dolls are already talk­ing state title in mid-Au­gust, they aren’t get­ting ahead of them­selves at all.

“It’s about step­ping up and get­ting past where we were,” Nau­dascher said. “It sucks to get all that way only to lose. It kind of felt like all the work we did was for noth­ing. We won the Cath­ol­ic League twice, and we know full well that if we want to reach our ul­ti­mate goal, then it starts with win­ning that again. It’s nev­er easy, but we want to go farther and make a big­ger name for our school.”

Haney cer­tainly has the horses in his stable to make a deep run in Novem­ber. As he enters his 10th train­ing camp as the pro­gram’s head coach, he said he’s just as ex­cited as ever to get the ball rolling in 2014.

“I told my wife last night that it’s my tenth sea­son and it’s still like Christ­mas morn­ing to me,” Haney said. “This is a spe­cial group, and I’m more ex­cited than I’ve ever been. I want to bring them on slowly, but it’s al­most like hold­ing back a pit­bull. When you put them on the field, they stand out. If the pieces fall in­to the right place, things can hap­pen. They can win a state cham­pi­on­ship. 

“As a coach, I’m al­ways ask­ing, ‘How do I pre­pare them for it? How can I chal­lenge them?’ I’ve used some harsh words to talk them down a bit in or­der to build them back up. It’s a mat­ter of chan­ging their mind­set. We want to win the Cath­ol­ic League, yeah, but we want to win it, get our plaque, walk off and be ready to go win the state tour­na­ment.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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