HAVERFORD — The difference is as stark as night and day, and it couldn’t have been more evident Tuesday afternoon.
A year ago, Gianna Pileggi sometimes looked like she wasn’t entirely comfortable in the Episcopal Academy cage. Not that the then-sophomore had a bad season. After all, she helped lead the Churchmen to an Inter-Ac championship, but there were times where Pileggi let the game come to her instead of attacking it head-on.
Not so much this year. In EA’s 2-1 win over Notre Dame at the Haverford Reserve, Pileggi looked sharp, in control, and oozing with confidence. Maybe that’s something that comes with a year of experience and five shutouts, including four straight heading into the battle with the Irish, but Pileggi just looked different. She made several great saves in tight, including a point-blank opportunity with five minutes to play off the stick of All-Delco Emily Faught. Even though she was a bit nervous when Faught wound up with zeroes on the clock off the final corner, Pileggi never showed it and preferred to delegate credit to her teammates.
“I was nervous, but I knew I had a lot of faith in my defenders because they played an amazing game, so I really wasn’t worried,” Pileggi said. “We’ve played (the Irish) before, and it was really a team effort. We played like a team out there.
But the save on Faught perhaps best exemplified Pileggi’s maturation over the past year. Despite looking like she didn’t see the shot until Faught was winding up, Pileggi aggressively jumped out and stonewalled one of the county’s best players in a high-pressure situation.
“I just saw it, …and I just knew I didn’t want it to go to overtime,” Pileggi said. “I just wanted to keep it at 2-1. (The win) is great. It’s a big accomplishment. I’m really proud of all my teammates, but we still have a lot of games to go and we’re just going to keep fighting through them as a team.”
With her nine saves against the Irish, Pileggi boasts a 90 percent save percentage, five shutouts and a sparkling 0.50 goals against average.
EA head coach Gina Buggy undoubtedly knew what to expect from the likes of All-Delco Alana Dumas and Lexie Curry offensively coming into the year, but it’s been a freshman that ranks among the biggest revelations in the county. Margaux Paolino has been a big boost to the Churchmen’s offense, and she was at it again against ND. She first set up Dumas’ first-half goal with a tremendous pass that Dumas one-timed home, and she also set up Curry’s game-winner with another pass. Obviously, being tasked with being a big-time player so early hasn’t fazed Paolino.
“I kind of noticed (Dumas) coming down from the other side and realized that I had an open breakaway and she was coming along the side,” Paolino said. “So I realized that if the girl started baiting me, I could just flip it to (Dumas).”
With her eight goals and four assists, Paolino ranks second on the team in goals, assists and points, and it’s been her instant chemistry with Dumas that have made the duo so explosive and tough to defend.
“She’s been great,” Paolino said. “She’s been helping me along the way, and she’s been setting me up with some great ideas, and helping me get in the right position. We’re working together really well.”
For the Irish, it might have been a different story if they had taken full advantage of their numerous scoring attempts. ND earned 16 corners, but never scored on any of them. They came close late when two-time All-Delco Moira Putsch fired a shot that was almost deflected in, but true to to form in the game, ND couldn’t quite bury it.
“It’s pretty tough,” said Faught, a Virginia commit. “I know we all really wanted it. But now we want to win it more next time. We weren’t finishing, we weren’t having girls on posts, and we just couldn’t put the ball in. We just had to finish and we couldn’t.”
Still waiting for a team to hold Cardinal O’Hara’s Marissa Cicione to less than two goals. Cicione vaulted into a three-way tie atop the county points leader board with her three-goal, two-assist outburst in the Lions’ 10-0 whitewashing of Bishop McDevitt. She, Putsch and Dumas all have 20 points on the season. Cicione has scored at least two goals in every single game this year, and she has nine goals in her past three games. Just unreal production in the early going.
Looks like Garnet Valley had to hold on for a closer-than-preferred second half against Radnor. The Jaguars led, 4-0, at the half, but the Red Raiders scored three second-half goals, but Radnor couldn’t come all the way back, falling, 5-3. For GV”s sake, hopefully Katie Keyser‘s second two-goal game of the season can help get her on the track that helped her become a fearsome sniper in the Central League as a sophomore last year.
On the other side, how about the job Caroline Cunningham is doing for Radnor? She has three multi-goal games this year for a team-best seven tallies. The Red Raiders struggled to score at times last year, but that doesn’t seem to be a big problem this year. Tightening things up defensively, though, would be a big help.
One of the toughest tasks this year for any team to do might be scoring a goal against Strath Haven’s defense. The Panthers rang up another shutout Tuesday, and they’ve only allowed two goals in six games. Caroline Boyd‘s goals against average is a microscopic 0.33 goals per game, and SH will continue to be tough to beat if, you know, you can’t score on them. Maybe we can see Marissa Cicione try to score on that defense. Immovable object vs. unstoppable force?
Don’t look now, but it looks like Haverford is rounding into form as the Central League contenders many expected them to be. The Fords have only allowed one goal in their four-game winning streak, and two-time All-Delco Jess McCarthy is heating up after a slow start. The Drexel commit has six goals and an assist in those four wins, and Katie Wyman has stopped 20 of 21 shots. If Natalie Bova can keep scoring like she did against Lower Merion (two goals, two assists in a 6-1 rout), there might be a good source of secondary scoring.
You’ve got to feel for Penncrest goalie Maddie Malone. The Lions have been offensively-challenged with only nine goals in six gam and they’ve been shut out in three of their past four games, but Malone has been a bright spot. She’s stopped 81.7 percent of the shots headed her way and keeps the Lions in games. Tuesday, she stopped 10 Delco Christian shots, but Penncrest couldn’t generate any offense and fell, 2-0. If the Lions can start scoring though, they could be dangerous with that strong backstop.
– MATT CHANDIK