Field Hockey: Upstart Cardinal O’Hara has an eye on the Catholic League crown

A year ago, Cardinal O’Hara too young and too inexperienced.

And the Lions paid the price for relying on so much youth when they ran into a buzzsaw in the form of Catholic League rival Archbishop Carroll. The Patriots walloped O’Hara, 5-0-, in the teams’ regular-season meeting, and followed it up with a 3-1 win in the PCL title game.  There was plenty to be proud of – making it to the championship game with so many youngsters and boasting the Catholic League MVP in Grace Boston would be a nice foundation for anyone – but there had to be a feeling of disappointment in the end.

But that was last year, and last year has no bearing on this year. For the Lions, that means a shot at redemption for the Lions, one they fully intend on taking advantage of. There’s plenty for head coach Marie Murphy to work with, including that special group of then-sophomores who are a year smarter, more experienced, and better. The headliner is Boston, who earned All-Delco honors a year ago when she paired 16 goals with 16 assists, and she’s off to a hot start with her two goals and three assists in the Lions’ first three games (3-0).

“She’s always consistent, and she’s a player that we can rely on to do big things in big games,” Murphy said of Boston. “She scores a lot of goals, but she’s also really big with assists for us. She’s just a really complete player.”

As good as Boston is, though, Marissa Cicione has been the headliner of the young season with her three straight two-goal games. Cicione has six goals and an assist for a team-best seven points, and if she can continue her torrid pace alongside Boston and senior Carlie Spaeder, a two-way standout, the Lions’ offense will be nearly impossible to stop.

“Grace and Carlie really work well together, but Marissa gets in there, too,” Murphy said. “Carlie’s been starting since her freshman year and if anyone wants the PCL title the most, it’s her. She’s the one keeping the girls in check . She wants it, and she wants to make sure she gets it.”

Midfielder Gabby Rowe and defender Lauren DelRomano are a pair of juniors that Murphy thinks will have big years again. Rowe is someone who excels both offensively and defensively, while DelRomano is as good as it gets among Delco’s defenders. She prowls the back line with speed, intensity and intelligence, and rarely, if ever, lets anyone behind her. Rowe is as versatile as anyone, and affords O’Hara the luxury of showing multiple looks.

“For the first two years, Gabby was always my wall, but Lauren has taken that position now, while Gabby is more at midfield,” Murphy said. “Gabby can really play both ways. She tends to take charge of the midfield on defense, and puts it on herself to not let anything behind her. Lauren’s really consistent. She knows when and where to send the ball.”

Rounding out that talented group of juniors is goalie Liz Piszker, a player Murphy credited for a vast improvement in the summer. While there are still areas for Piszker to work on, Murphy knows what to expect from her goalie.

“Liz is still really working to come into her own,” said Murphy of Piszker, who has stopped 21 of 23 shots headed her way and has a shutout already. “She relies on the players in front of her, but we’re hoping she can step up her game a bit more. I want to see her get confident, but she’s pushing herself to work more on her skills.”

Sophomore center-mid Jess Randazzo is a player that Murphy thinks might be the Lions’ breakout player this year. A starter a year ago as a freshman, Randazzo has earned her teammates’ trust, and figures to blossom as a sophomore on a veteran-laden team.

“She’s one of our most consistent players, and she’s always on target,” Murphy said.

Just like O’Hara will need to be on target if it wants to navigate through a daunting schedule with hopes of making it back to the PCL title game. It’s tough to pick the Lions over Carroll as the league favorite, but O’Hara seems locked in as a firm No. 2. It’s likely that the Lions and Patriots will play twice this year. Can either one sweep?

-MATT CHANDIK

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