Gwynedd Mercy Academy entered Tuesday night's PIAA Class AA playoffs a team needing to refocus after a subpar performance in the District One playoffs.
"It was tough coming out of that first Merion loss,' GMA coach Sue Persichetti said of her team needing to rebound off its district showing. "It took a lot of team bonding, events or activities to kind of pull it all together and get their heads back on straight because they felt powerful up until then.'
The Monarchs regained their swagger in the form of 2-1 opening round victory against the higher-seeded Palmyra. Nichole Catalino scored both GMA goals coming just 3 minutes, 59 seconds apart from each other in the first half. Catalino has continued to prove why she is a valuable asset to a potent Monarchs offensive attack.
"Nichole's second goal was one of the prettiest goals I've ever seen,' Persichetti said.
Palmyra drew first blood as Kendall Kreider scored off a free pass from Haley Bova. Unfortunately for the Cougars, the stoppage in play was caused by an injury sustained by midfielder Katie Dembrowski. The absence of Dembrowski not only took one of the Cougars best players off the field, but seemed to suck some of the energy out of them as they watched their teammate exit Henry Hershey field in an ambulance with a left wrist injury.
"Our team was crushed when we lost Katie,' Palmyra coach Kristi Costello said. "They were just really shook up and I think they came together well and scored that rebound goal right away.'
Palmyra did start to play with an edge after the Dembrowski injury. It really started getting after loose balls and Kylie Huffman even re-entered the game in the second half despite injuring her ankle midway through the first and played the remainder of the game at noticeably less than 100 percent.
"I think they played their hearts out for Katie and for each other, so I'm proud of that,' Costello said.
Palmyra's best opportunity to tie the game came with just under 20 minutes to play when Carli Herman' s penalty stroke was stopped by a sprawling Ava Rusati to preserve the Monarchs' lead.
"She made a really great save,' Costello said. "I wouldn't have changed my decision, Carli's the girl.'
The save by Rusati summarized her play as she stood on her head, particularly in the second half making excellent save after excellent save. She even survived an offensive barrage in the final minutes as the Cougars were certainly not going down quietly. Rusati made 12 stops in a brilliant performance.
"Ava's been tested a lot lately and she has been unbelievable,' Persichetti said. "She's been tested with strokes, she's been tested with really good offensive players the past three or four games and she's just come out on top every time.'
Gwynedd will see if its new found focus is here to last as it will now turn its attention to a second round match up with Archbishop Carroll Saturday afternoon.