By Nelson Coffin
People who thought that a shakeup in the coaching staff in January would have an impact on how well McDonogh performed when the season began a couple of months later may need to rethink that assessment.
Six games into the 2018 campaign, the record-setting Eagles have been just as strong as ever under former longtime assistant Nancy Love and two other McDonogh alumnae, Mary Beth Todd and Taylor Cummings. Drexel University grad Eva Winiarski rounds out the new coaching staff.
Even when a team plays well in some facets of game, it would have to be almost perfect to be the first rival to knock off McDonogh since Canandaigua Academy prevailed, 12-10, in 2009 — or 183 games ago.
Maryvale, which has been a pleasant surprise so far in the young season after starting off with decisive A Conference wins over Archbishop Spalding and Roland Park Country School before falling to Bryn Mawr, hosted McDonogh on Monday afternoon in Brooklandville with high hopes of pulling off an upset.
And the Lions looked good, especially on draws, in transition and in the goal.
It was all to no avail, however, because McDonogh’s overall ability and consistency led to a convincing 14-4 victory, it’s third by double digits in A Conference play this spring.
As a unit, it would be hard to argue that the Eagles’ top group was a stout backline spearheaded by senior goalie Julia Cooper and her close defenders, senior Hannah Rothe, juniors Sam Thacker and Abbie Wilhelm and sophomore Ava Class.
Along with like-minded sophomore midfielders Emma Tilson, Kayla Abernathy and Emma Shettig and junior middie Blaire Pearre, their collective pressure forced Maryvale, which was averaging 13.25 goals per game, into numerous mistakes on the offensive end.
And the Lions had the ball frequently, considering that junior Sophia Antonopoulos and her mates went toe-to-toe with McDonogh’s Duke-bound center Maddie Jenner on the circle by claiming 11 of the game’s 20 draws.
Despite getting the ball off the draw more times than not, cracking the code against the Eagle defense is no easy task.
“We had a great game plan, but we didn’t stick to it,” said former McDonogh assistant Kim Dubansky, in her first year helming the Lions. “They apply pressure like no other team. They push out a lot and are always ready to slide to adjacents.”
It was in settled 7-on-7 situations that Maryvale struggled the most.
“A lot of our teammates have our backs,” Thacker said. “We press out on the ball and then they help us by sliding. And Coop is a really strong leader. She’s a wall back there.”
“We trust each other and communicate to make sure everything works,” Class added.
Sophomore middle Lizzie deGuzman, junior attacker Peyton White (2 goals) and Antonopoulos were the only Lions able to solve Cooper (9 saves).
Meanwhile, Maryvale senior Sophie Shucosky (13 saves) had a pretty good day between the pipes as well against an offense that has produced at least 14 goals in each of its six outings this spring.
The Eagles were led by Jenner (4 goals), senior attacker Julia Hoffman (2 goals, 3 assists), sophomore attacker Izzy Marsh (2 and 1) and Tilson (2 goals). Senior attackers Anna Robinson and Megan Mix, Pearre and Schettig added single goals while Abernathy also had an assist.
“Our defenders have to play against some of the top offensive players in the country,” Love said, explaining how the Eagle ‘D’ sharpens its skills in practice. “We didn’t know what we were going to have back there before the season, but the defense just goes out and does its job.”
Still, Dubansky said that she saw some positives in the loss.
“I was pleased with our defense,” she said. “But when McDonogh has the ball, it’s going to score. They’re like a machine that just replaces its parts.”