Field Hockey: Garnet Valley Goes from Underdog to Favorite

All-Delco Eleanor Kirby, right, hopes to help Garnet Valley make its way back to the District One tournament.                                      TIMES STAFF/ROBERT J. GURECKI

My, how things have changed at Garnet Valley.

A year ago, the young, inexperienced Jaguars struggled to find consistency in an up-and-down season that culminated with a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Conestoga that left them on the outside of the District One tournament looking in.

Fast forward to a year later, and head coach Erin Fidler‘s team is consistently mentioned around the league as one of the teams to beat. It’s a little bit of a culture change for Fidler and her group, but that’s not a bad thing. 

“It is a little bit weird,” said Fidler, who underwent a name change from Arrowood after her wedding this year. “I don’t know if I want to hope too much, because there’s a lot of work to do. I don’t want the girls to think it’s in the bag in any shape or form. But we’re really excited. I think the last game against Conestoga left a sour taste in everybody’s mouth.”

There’s too much talent in the Central League for anything to be in the bag before anyone plays a game, but there’s a lot for Fidler to be excited about. The unquestioned leader and best player on the team is All-Delco senior Eleanor Kirby. Kirby’s versatility is rivaled by few in the area, and she’s counted upon to put forth another big year if Garnet Valley wants to make a run to the league title and to the district playoffs.

“She’s always been our rock,” Fidler said. “She just always has such good field position, and she’s a great leader. She’s pretty much been one of our captains for the past few years, and she’s been leading the team this year since spring workouts.”

Kirby won’t be alone in trying to restore the Jaguars’ playoff hopes, though. Junior Katie Keyser returns to the forward line after a strong sophomore season, and the track & field All-Delco made waves in the offseason when she was named to the Futures Elite team. As evidenced by her track exploits, Keyser, the latest in a long line of elite athletes in her family, has speed to burn, and she’ll be a big threat to score at all times for Garnet Valley.

“I think she’ll be doing a lot of the same things as last year,” Fidler said, “except with even more scoring.”

Joining Keyser on that Futures Elite team will be Fidler’s new starting goalie, sophomore Hailey Valerio. The pair competed in the Junior Olympics in Houston, Tex., as well, and Valerio was invited to attent the Junior National Camp. It’s safe to say that Fidler’s got high hopes for her young goalie, and Valerio’s job will be made that much easier by the play of Kirby and Giulz Antignani. A senior defender, Antignani doesn’t quite the same type of recognition that Kirby does, but Fidler thinks that Antignani has the skills to change that.

“She just does not let the ball past her,” Fidler said. “She has the mentality that she just owns the circle, and she’s very confident with that. She’s getting great looks from colleges like Saint Joseph’s, Kent State and East Stroudsburg. She’s going to be really good again this year.”

And if you haven’t heard much of sophomore Jessika Daniels or senior Julia Schoonover, Fidler thinks that will change very soon. Daniels will be providing reinforcements on the midfield line, and Schooner is expected to have a breakout year after moving to forward from midfield.

“Jessika is great on both sides of the field,” Fidler said. “She’s comfortable with taking shots, she’s a great defender and she’s just obsessed with the sport. She’s always the first at practice and the last to leave. And her cousin is (West Chester Rustin All-State and Drexel sophomore) Meghan Plank, so they always work out together and Jessika learns a lot of stuff there.”

“I really think Julia’s going to be a threat at forward. She got a lot better with her shooting. I think she and Katie are going to score a lot of goals.”

And if the Jaguars have their way, that will make for a lot of wins.

– MATT CHANDIK

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