Jill Farley isn’t 100 percent sure what to expect from her Upper Darby team this year.
The good news is that there are 12 seniors on the Royals’ roster, and there a few underclassmen that aim to earn ample playing time. The bad news is that not all of those 12 seniors played varsity last year, and Upper Darby also has to break in a new goalie.
Yet there are good reasons for Farley to be optimistic about the season. Many of her players were on last year’s team that defeated Radnor, 1-0, for the first win over the Red Raiders in school history. That kind of win over a Central League blue blood can do wonders for a team’s confidence. And there are a few major contributors from last season who Farley expects will make significant leaps this year.
Farley singled out senior center midfielder Katie Dwyer as the team’s go-to girl, and she and fellow seniors Charlotte Cornell (forward) and Bridget Rush (center back) will be the Royals’ backbone, at least early on.
“Charlotte gets a lot of great touches, and she has great speed and great stick skills,” Farley said of Cornell, who picked up the assist on Katie Hild‘s overtime goal to beat Radnor. “She was one of our leading scorers last year, and even when she wasn’t scoring, she was setting up others. She’s a really good passer.”
Dwyer and Rush will be tasked with helping junior goalie Kerri Rickards get accustomed to the pace of Central League play. If Farley’s opinions are to be believed, that shouldn’t be much of a problem for the duo of Dwyer and Rush.
“Katie kind of runs the field,” Farley said. “She really works well with her teammates, and she has very good game sense. Bridget is very aggressive, and she communicates well with the team. She also has good stick skills, which help a lot.”
While Rickards will have a lot of help in front of her, Farley also thinks that her new starter can do big things. Since she’s been practicing with the team for three years and has seen some varsity action to go with her JV experience, Rickards should hit the ground running for the Royals.
Back on the offensive end of things, Cornell won’t be tasked with being the only goal scorer on the team. Sophomore Bridget Johnson is someone Farley thinks can have a big year for Upper Darby, and if she and Cornell can connect early and often, it would take the pressure off of Rickards’ shoulders.
“Bridget’s got great speed,” Farley said. “She’s another one with good stick skills, and she’s willing to work.”
Speed, speed, speed. If the Royals will be anything this year, it’s fast. Farley loves the team speed that she has at her disposal, and that speed might be just enough to help Upper Darby climb the Central League ladder. While some have declared the likes of Conestoga, Haverford and Garnet Valley as league favorites, Farley thinks there’s a chance for everyone involved to state its case as the best in the league.
“It’s a wide-open league,” Farley said. “Especially with all of the coaching turnover. I know Conestoga and Haverford both have new coaches, so that’s big. I really think it’s anyone’s league.”
Maybe it is, and maybe the Royals can make a league title their seniors’ swan song.
– MATT CHANDIK