CONCORD — It's a position that Garnet Valley hasn't found itself in too often lately, but all told, it's probably a position that the Jaguars could get used to very quickly.
Rattling off the list of Central League contenders rounds up the usual suspects. Defending champion Haverford and perennial power Conestoga are two that jump out to anyone, but the most hyped team is one that has never been able to find itself atop the league standings at year's end.
Things can change, though, and pretty quickly. Jaguars coach Erin Fidler has a team of all seniors and juniors, with the exception of one sophomore in backup goalie Paige Lawton. Garnet Valley made great strides a year ago, reaching the District One tournament for the first time since moving to the Central League from the Southern Chester County League. Considering the fact that the Jaguars return most of that team, with a few notable exceptions, it stands to reason that there's substance to all that flash.
Garnet Valley showed off why this could be the year to break the jinx in a thrilling 4-3 win over Central Bucks East Tuesday night, but it was also how they did that lent credence that this is a team that knows how to win even when things don't go well.
The Jaguars (2-0) broke open a 1-1 tie less than five minutes into the second half when Molly Savage and Brittany Talley found the back of the cage 53 seconds apart and from there, it looked like Garnet Valley would romp. But goals from the Patriots' Chelsea Fife and Sarah Thiroway knotted the game up with 5:20 to go, a situation that inexperienced teams tend to falter in. The Jaguars, though, showed off their maturation.
Garnet Valley earned a corner, one in which Dana Davis zipped a shot toward the net that Shivani Chinnappan deflected into C.B. East goalie Sam Grzegorczyk (14 saves). Grzegorczyk withstood the initial onslaught, but Katie Keyser's determined second effort resulted in her second goal of the game and gave the Jaguars the offense they needed to stay unbeaten.
"All I know is that it was right there and (Grzegorczyk) went down,' Keyser said. "I was so mad and just, like, ' it's right there.' It shows that we have the extra effort when it gets competitive and close at the end, especially against (the Patriots). ... It just shows that when when we actually focus and calm down and play our game, we're pretty good.'
The most notable losses from last year's edition of the Jaguars were two-time All-Delco midfielder Eleanor Kirby (Bloomsburg) and defender Giulz Antignani (Kent State), but against the Patriots, it looked like those absences were well-replaced by junior midfielder Jessika Daniels and defender Alison Amen. Both were able to expand their roles for the Jaguars and are a major reason why expectations are higher than ever before for Garnet Valley.
"I think this will help us in the future, down the line in the playoffs.' Amen said.
Daniels is learning and becoming more comfortable on the fly, but a win has a way of taking the edge off, too.
"I definitely think it was (a confidence-booster),' Daniels said. "We went into this game not knowing what to expect, but I think we really came home with the win and I think we deserved it. We like to keep it interesting. We go up a lot, then other teams score and at the end we always come back. I think we really put it all in at the end.'
Savage has been through it all with the Jaguars. She has the experience of knowing what it's like to win on the biggest stage, too, with a pair of PIAA lacrosse championships to her name, so the senior knows that wins aren't always going to be pretty. Regardless, they all count the same.
"(C.B. East tying the game) was definitely a kick in the butt,' Savage said. "It was more of a mental game when they came back. ... It was really interesting because we have never played them before. We didn't know anything about them, so we went into this game with a completely clean slate. We'll see where it takes us. Hopefully, coming off of last year, we're really pushing to go just as far and even further.'
Keyser slammed home a Brittany Talley rebound to give the Jaguars a 1-0 lead, a lead they gave up with 18 seconds to go in the first half. Goalie Hailey Valerio showcased her athleticism with a pair of highlight-reel saves to lead her six-save effort.
In other nonleague games:
Penncrest 1, Academy Park 0: Brielle McQuiston turned aside five shots for her first career shutout and Eva Michaliszyn tallied the game's lone goal in the victory for the Lions.
Leah Hill tallied an assist on Michaliszyn's goal for the Lions (1-1). Memuna Sillah and Gabby Lee helped keep the Knights in the hunt all game long
Plymouth Whitemarsh 2, Lower Merion 0: Katharine Kelly and Lindsay Barson were defensive standouts for the Aces (0-3) and Devon Scharf stoned eight shots, but Lower Merion couldn't get on the board.
In the Bicentennial League:
Emma Ellsworth and Ingrid Stahl played standout defense and goalie Rachael Pope stymied six shots to help Delco Christian walk away with a 0-0 tie against New Hope-Solebury.
In the Ches-Mont League:
Madison Corrento set up Joey Walker for a Sun Valley goal, but the Vanguards couldn't keep pace with Bishop Shanahan in an 8-1 defeat in their league opener.