Episcopal Academy had had enough.
Enough watching its archrival, the Academy of Notre Dame, control the Inter-Ac. Enough coming up short as the Irish claimed four straight league titles, though the Churchmen did share the title in 2008. Enough being thisclose to winning a title, only to watch ND walk away with it.
So the Churchmen did something about it. It was Carly Ciccotti‘s overtime goal in the second game between the two teams – they tied in the opener – that brought EA the outright Inter-Ac crown for the first time since the school moved from Merion to Newtown Square.
And the Churchmen don’t plan on waiting very long for another championship, either. With the amount of returning talent that they have, it’s not hard to see why they’re so confident, too. It starts up front with a fearsome forward line, but there’s depth all the way down the roster that will help ensure that EA maintains its place among Delaware County’s elite.
That forward line’s best player is unquestionably senior co-captain and All-Delco Alana Dumas. Dumas broke the school record for goals in a season of 25 with 26 last year, and she also proved to be a playmaking threat with her 10 assists. Dumas is as fast as anyone in the county, and it’s that breakneck speed that enables her to jumpstart the Churchmen’s offense.
“We’re hoping Alana continues to score goals for us,” EA head coach and athletic director Gina Buggy said of Dumas, who’s considering schools like Penn, Brown, and Wake Forest. “She provides a lot of speed for us. She’s so fast that she gets to balls behind defenders, and she gets a lot of her goals like that. But she’s also a good feeder. She’ll give the ball up, so she’s really an all-around threat.”
Rounding out that explosive forward line will be junior Lexi Curry and senior Kali Kilmer, both of whom enjoyed strong seasons a year ago. Curry has big-game credentials with her two goals in that overtime win against the Irish, and Buggy cited Kilmer’s strong rapport with Dumas as a reason why she’ll flourish, too.
“Lexi’s looking more confident, more in control,” Buggy said. “And Kali’s good in the circle, and she works well with Alana. She has good stick skills, which helps, too.”
Buggy has every reason to be excited about her midfield, too. Senior Claire Kneizys is as dependable as it gets, and her game resembles Leslie MacManus’ a little bit. MacManus was an All-Delco a year ago as a senior who’s plying her craft at Johns Hopkins. Neither is extremely flashy, but they’ll get the job done at both ends of the field.
“Claire is so reliable in the midfield,” Buggy said. “She’s very steady. She’s sound, she’s good at trapping the ball, she’s strong releasing the ball, and she has great moves. She’s a threat on offense, but she’s also a good defender. Very decisive and patient.”
Kneizys, who will also see time on the back line, will be joined at midfield by junior Taryn Gallagher. A three-sport athlete – she also plays squash and was a member of EA’s Inter-Ac and PAISSA tournament-winning lacrosse team- Gallagher earned significant minutes a year ago and is expected to pick up where she left off a year ago. Another junior, Christy Schlarbaum, is another player whose versatility hasn’t gone unnoticed by Buggy. Like Kneizys, she’ll also likely see time on defense and at midfield.
And when Schlarbaum and Kneizys do slide back to defense, they’ll be joined by senior Tori Sarmiento, who hasn’t had the easiest of preseasons. She had her tonsils removed in the offseason, and complications from the surgery have held her out of preseason camp. So much so, in fact, that she hasn’t even been able to go watch practices and scrimmages. But Buggy expects Sarmiento back in time for the season, and there’s every reason to believe she’ll enjoy a standout senior season.
On top of that all of that talent outside the goalie cage, Buggy has a returning goalie – a rare luxury in high school field hockey – in junior Gianna Pileggi. Pileggi was strong in net last year in her first year as a starter when she had to replace All-Delco Julia Boyle. Buggy’s noticed a positive change in Pileggi’s confidence this year, and she thinks that her second-year goalie could blossom.
“You can most definitely tell that her confidence is higher,” Buggy said. “She played a lot this summer, and we’re really expecting big things from her this year. She’s a force back there, which is nice. We really are lucky to have her back.”
The road to a championship won’t be easy, but EA will be battle-tested by a tough nonleague slate that includes Haverford, Archbishop Carroll, Cardinal O’Hara, and then, of course, there’s the tough league schedule. Buggy acknowledged that Notre Dame will likely be the top competition for the Inter-Ac title, but she also mentioned Agnes Irwin as a potential sleeper. Regardless, that target that comes with a championship will only bring out the best in the Churchmen.
And they’ll be ready.
- MATT CHANDIK