Entering the final week of the season, the Neshaminy girls soccer team knew they were flirting with history. Two more victories and they would reach scholastic soccer perfection, an unblemished record and a PIAA state championship. Yet in a sport where games are often decided by a single goal, there were no sure things.
One certainty did ring true. Neshaminy had the poise and veteran savvy to handle the pressure. Led by their two-time All-American forward Megan Schafer and their seemingly invincible goalie McKenna Mullin, the Lady Redskins definitely boasted the firepower necessary to handle the tension inherent in any championship run.
As the season unfolded, junior Fran Donato realized Neshaminy had already became a game marked on every opponent's calendar. Beating the Redskins meant beating the Dream Team. "There is a lot of pressure on us because we want to go through our season and do great. It makes us work harder. It makes us feel awesome having the target on our back. We need to work above and beyond to win every game.'
The pressure mounted each week as Neshaminy took down one opponent after another. Each victory moved them closer to the season goals Mullin summarized prior to the state semifinal game against CB East.
"We each write down goals on an index card and then put them on a whiteboard. We wanted to go undefeated in our league, which we did. We wanted to win SOLs, which we did. And win districts, which we did. Hopefully we can win states.'
The state semifinal Nov. 12 on the turf at William Tennent provided a real challenge for coach Rachel Clemens charges. They not only faced an aroused Patriots team but they needed to muster their hottest firepower on a bitterly cold night. For the first 10 minutes of the crucial showdown, East appeared to be primed for an upset. They attacked with intensity and just missed drawing first blood when a shot by Abby Emmert hit the crossbar.
Having staved off the original assault, Neshaminy settled into its own game, one that features crisp passing and total team awareness. Sophomore Gabby Farrell put the ' Skins on the board with 4 minutes and 56 seconds left in the half. The mercurial forward raced across field and then booted a left-footed shot by Patriots goalie Paige Marcinkowski.
After a close opening few minutes of play in the second half, Neshaminy once again asserted itself. Not surprisingly, Schafer ignited the surge when, with 24:15 left in the game, she took the ball, outraced defenders down the left side of the field, before blasting her 32nd goal of the season into the right corner of the net.
With equal aptitude, Schafer switched hats and became the playmaker with 6:12 remaining on the clock. She centered a perfect pass that Gabby Farrell banged home to ice the 3-0 victory.
Schafer's exploits are deeply appreciated by her teammates. Earlier in the season, Donato described their admiration saying, "Megan is a great player, a great team player and a great individual. She's an awesome plus to our team.'
The big semifinal win catapulted Neshaminy into the state championship game and left them ranked as the seventh best team in the country by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), an honor they more than lived up to in their championship game against Spring-Ford at Hershey Park.
The ' Skins took an early first-half lead when defender Amy Heller booted a 35-yard free kick into the box. Schafer knew what to do with the perfect pass as she timed her move and sent the ball into the back of the net with a little over five minutes gone in the game.
When Spring-Ford tied the game late in the second half, Neshaminy proved it could handle the pressure. Four minutes into overtime junior Amy Mandia deflected a shot by Farrell past the outstretched hands of goalie Jenna Griggs.
Amidst all the happy tears after the game was the realization that this was the last game the ' Skins would be together. As Mullin had said a week ago, "We're a strong team all around. On the field and off, the bonds we have are strong. We're inseparable.'
Though they might not play together again, they will always have the memories of their dream season. Neshaminy had capped off an amazing 26-0 campaign with the school's first ever girls state title.
Neshaminy 3, Central Bucks East 0
(Nov. 12 at William Tennent)
CB East 0 0 — 0
Neshaminy 1 2 — 3
GOALS: N-Gabby Farrell 2, Megan Schafer.
SAVES: CBE-Paige Marcinkowski 7; N-McKenna Mullin 4
Neshaminy 2, Spring-Ford 1
(Nov. 16 at HersheyPark Stadium)
Spring-Ford 0 1 0 — 1
Neshaminy 1 0 1 — 2
GOALS: SF-Sammy Stipa; N-Megan Schafer, Amy Mandia.
SAVES: SF-Jenna Griggs 9; N-McKenna Mullin 4