The numbers won't jump off the page immediately, but the progress being made by the Marple Newtown field hockey team is definitely grabbing the attention of many.
A modest 4-6-0 record (2-4-0 in the Central League) might not seem like much to some, but considering how much the Tigers have struggled in recent years, it's a drastic swing of events for Robin McCarthy's team. And it's not just even the wins, although a 2-1 defeat of Strath Haven last week, buoyed by goals from Lauren Ferguson and Sam Walsh, was a big boost. The Tigers have gone down to the wire with most of teams on their schedule, including taking defending league champion Haverford down to the wire, and aren't rolling over for anyone.
The biggest change? Defense.
"I thought (goalie) Megan Peterson was spectacular last year,' McCarthy said, "but this year, the defense is really supporting her. I don't even know how many defensive saves Kelly Houghton and Gina Rosanio have had this year. The team is really learning to trust each other and making better passes.'
Peterson's save percentage has skyrocketed to 88.2 percent this year from 80.9 percent a year ago under the tutelage of Melissa McCarthy, the coach's daughter and a former player at Haverford and Hofstra University. One of only two Tigers to play club, Peterson, a junior, has blossomed into one of Delco's best goalies in her two years as a starter.
"Her best game was against Springfield,' Robin McCarthy said of a 15-save effort in a 2-1 win over the Cougars. "She was in everybody's face, being aggressive, and her confidence is probably more where it should be than it was at the beginning of the season. She's really matured.'
But Robin McCarthy's lineup changes have also helped, too.
"We moved Erin Carpenter to midfield from halfback and that's made a difference,' McCarthy said. "Gina Monahan's now playing in the middle of the field where she's able to distribute the ball.'
It's no secret who teams look to stop first when they play Garnet Valley. Katie Keyser has been the sparkplug for the Jaguars' offense since her sophomore year and the recent Stanford commit already has 10 goals. But the emergence of secondary scoring threats is a big reason why Garnet Valley has raced out to an 8-2 mark, including a perfect 5-0 in league play.
Brittany Talley has already tallied eight goals after only having one last year and Shivani Chinnappan has six goals, all in her last six games, after having four all of last year. Chinnappan's coming-out party was a two-goal performance against Catholic League favorite Cardinal O'Hara. So what's been the difference?
"I felt like a lot of people put their best foot forward in that game and it amped me up to give my best for my team because I want to win for these girls, not just for myself,' Chinnappan said. "It was a bit of a confidence-booster, but I was more excited for my team.'
Sophia Tornetta got the opportunity to make a big impact for Agnes Irwin while getting a chance to play with her sister, Olivia.
And while the older Tornetta graduated, that hasn't stopped Tornetta from getting a chance to play with another sister, freshman Julianna. If it's possible, the two have been an even more prolific duo for the Owls (7-1-0). Sophia is second in Delco with 26 points and Julianna also checks in in the top 10 with 14. Not bad for second-year coach Alison Brant.
"It's been really great. It's so much fun playing with (her),' said Sophia, who's narrowed down her collegiate list to Duke, North Carolina and Princeton. "It's so cool to be able to play with an older sister, then when she goes, play with a younger sister, so always having someone to play with.'
For more field hockey and volleyball coverage, visit delcohssports.com.