Home News Vindicated: Ryan scores opening-round state playoff win

Vindicated: Ryan scores opening-round state playoff win

Moving on: Tuesday’s goal scorers Jules Blank (left, game-winner) and freshman Madison Taylor (tying score) helped Ryan advance to Saturday’s state playoff quarterfinals against Elizabethtown following a 2–1 overtime victory over Council Rock South. ED MORRONE / TIMES PHOTO

Oh, no … here we go again.

Whether they admit it or not, this had to be the common sentiment racing through the heads of the Archbishop Ryan girls soccer players when their indomitable, nearly flawless goalie made a silly mistake that threatened to derail a season with so much hope and promise.

After getting bounced from the PIAA Class AAA state playoffs in the first round each of the last two years, the Ragdolls again found themselves staring down the barrel of a crushing, season-ending defeat early in the first half of Tuesday night’s 2014 state opener against Council Rock South in South Philadelphia. Senior goalkeeper Jazmin Gonzalez, owner of the school’s career shutout record and one of the most accomplished players in program history, committed an uncharacteristic blunder just over 16 minutes into the game when she scooped up a loose ball on the wrong side of the 18-yard box.

The error set up a free kick at close range, and Council Rock South senior Elissa Dotzman, with the force of a sledgehammer, fired a rocket into the net that Gonzalez never had a chance on. The Hawks led 1–0 with 23:24 to play in the first half, the same exact score Ryan had lost on in 2012 and 2013.

But then, after arguably the ugliest, most discombobulated 30 minutes Ryan has played all season, something suddenly changed. The Ragdolls responded; junior Taylor Woods, the fastest player on the field for either team, had two strong chances in as many minutes, and junior leading scorer Jules Blank came close herself. The scoreboard may have still shown a one-goal deficit, but the Ragdolls showed signs of life, eager to let the goalie who had carried them to this point off the hook.

After an impassioned halftime speech from head coach Ryan Haney, the slumbering offense woke up: freshman Madison Taylor tied it up with 25:25 to go, and the Ragdolls spent the rest of regulation peppering the net with chances before Blank ended things with her team-leading 23rd goal 43 seconds into overtime in a 2–1 win.

The state playoff monkey is officially off Ryan’s collective backs. The Ragdolls (21–1) will play Elizabethtown of Lancaster County in Saturday’s quarterfinals; the game is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Exeter Township High School in Reading.

“Jazz made a mistake in the first half,” Blank would say later, cradling the ball she had just buried for the game-winner. “She’s one of the best keepers I’ve ever seen. She’s saved us so many times. We needed to do it for her.”

“We had to pick her up,” Taylor added. “That’s what a team does.”

For his part, Haney reached into the vault for a memory of his own playing days. A former boys soccer player at Ryan in the 1990s, Haney told his girls about a playoff game during his junior season in which the starting goalie (an All-Catholic selection) had bobbled a ball that led to a soft goal and a 2–0 deficit. His coach (and current Ryan athletic director) George Todt challenged the rest of the team to pick their keeper up.

“Mr. Todt looked at us all and said, ‘He (the keeper) has had us all year long. It’s time for you guys to pay him back,’ ” Haney said. “Tonight made me think of that, and at halftime I told them, ‘Jazz has had us all year. It’s time to pay her back.’ The other ones stepped up.”

Everybody involved understood how important it was for the program to win this game; even Taylor, who was an eighth grader when Ryan lost a year ago, knew full well how much her teammates wanted it.

“Maddie knew about that experience as much as the rest of us,” Blank said. “Because it’s all we’ve talked about all year.”

The equalizer came when Ryan senior sweeper Kaitlyn McFadden played a free kick toward the goal box from about 40 yards out. The ball struck the head of a Council Rock (14–9–1) defender and bounced around until it serendipitously found the foot of Taylor, who deposited it into the back of the net. She was the second Ryan freshman to score an enormous goal recently, as Haley O’Neill notched the game-winner against Archbishop Wood in the Catholic League title game.

A goal from such an unlikely source awoke a sleeping dragon, and the Ragdolls launched an assault of scoring chances on the opposing net for the next 25 minutes.

“I’ve been waiting to score in a game like this all year,” Taylor said. “When it slipped through I just knew I had to put something behind it. I kicked it and hoped for the best. It was the best feeling ever. The other girls, they make me more confident. They don’t treat me like a freshman.”

Although the Ragdolls didn’t win in regulation, it didn’t take Blank long to convert a Hawks turnover into an easy goal in the overtime’s first minute. The team converged into a jubilant mob on the field, the feelings of shock and relief palpable.

“We were unlucky on some chances, but we knew eventually one was going in if we kept shooting,” Blank said. “Going into this game, I said to myself that I was not going home on this bus crying again. We showed great composure.”

Ryan, desperate to prove it could compete and win at this level, is one of eight teams remaining in the Class AAA bracket. Gonzalez will be anxious to redeem herself on Saturday, and the team will need her best effort, as Elizabethtown, of PIAA’s District 3, scored often in its 5–1 opening-round win over Whitehall.

Despite the early blip, the result did wonders for Ryan’s confidence going forward; in fact, for a team that dominated so thoroughly in the regular season, the Ragdolls are now also proving they can rally, coming from behind to score overtime victories in three of their last six games.

“It’s a good moment for our program,” Haney said. “This was the game we needed to win. I think it’s going to allow us to play some good soccer on Saturday. I knew if we played the Ryan soccer that’s gotten us here, everything else would take care of itself.”

Haney admitted he knew nothing about his next opponent, which isn’t uncommon at this level. If the Ragdolls play against Elizabethtown (17–5–1) the way they did the final 50 minutes against Council Rock South, then scouting reports will be irrelevant.

“It’s not so much what other teams have; it’s how we play,” Haney said. “We’ve been here three straight years, so we really wanted this ‘W.’ We put the pressure on ourselves as coaches and players to get here, and I expect the energy on Saturday to be awesome.

“We earned the right to play in this atmosphere. We’re one of eight teams left in the state playoffs. Anything can happen on a run like this. I’m happy for the school and my staff, and I’m extremely happy for these girls for all the hard work they’ve put in. We can compete at this level. We have the talent. There are just no words right now for how happy I am.” ••

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