Ragdolls back on top of the Catholic League

Senior goalie Devon McDonald helped raise the game of everyone on the team this year.

The Archbishop Ryan girls soccer team celebrates after winning the Catholic League championship. PHOTO: JOE MCFADDEN

Most goalies will tell you a lot of their success comes from the players in front of them.

Devon McDonald credits those who were behind her.

McDonald is a senior goalie on the Archbishop Ryan High School girls soccer team, and after leading the Ragdolls to their fourth consecutive Catholic League championship as a sophomore in her first season as a starter, she had a largely forgettable junior year. Not only did they miss out on their fifth consecutive title, McDonald knew she could have played better in some of the games.

“The coaches and my teammates really helped me when I wasn’t doing great,” McDonald said. “In practice, they would just pick me up, and in games they would encourage me. The team does that, but everybody really helped me stay up, especially the coaches.”

This year, it was McDonald who raised the game of everyone on the Ragdolls and in the process helped Ryan return to the top spot in the Catholic League.

Ryan bested Lansdale Catholic 1–0 on Monday night to win the Catholic League championship at Northeast. She made seven saves to preserve the shutout and bring the trophy back to the Far Northeast.

Ryan’s goal came early in the second half when Kaitlyn Findley zipped a pass to Gianna Monaco, who scored on a breakaway.

The Ragdolls, who went 10–0–1 in the regular season, will now meet Central, the Public League champion, on Wednesday night, also at Northeast. The winner will not only be crowned city champs, but will earn a spot in the PIAA state playoffs.

It also gave McDonald a chance to finish her soccer career on top of the mountain.

“This definitely feels better than when we won as a sophomore because that year, we had so many great seniors who were so connected,” said McDonald, who lives in Somerton. “They were very good. Last year, we didn’t have that. We tried, but we weren’t as good.”

The season is going much better than it started.

Before games counted, McDonald started two scrimmages and gave up eight goals, including six in a preseason loss to Neshaminy.

But once the games started counting, McDonald was as good as any player in the Catholic League. Ryan allowed just two goals during the Catholic League portion of the schedule and, because of that, finished the year undefeated.

And while she was swatting balls away, she was also lifting her team’s spirits both on and off the field.

“The girls look up to her, she doesn’t even realize how much of an influence she is on this team,” said Ryan coach Jon Geist, who won three championships as a player at Ryan, four as an assistant coach and now one as the head coach. “She’s just a great kid who really played well for us this year. She’d be the first to tell you that she didn’t play the way she wanted to last year, but this year, we gave up two goals and she was the reason for that. She played great.

“I knew coming into the year we could win it all because we had a great defense, a great goalie and I knew we could keep people from scoring. But I never would have predicted going undefeated. They played very well and they deserve it.”

McDonald was happy she was able to go out a winner, but she was also happy that the Ragdolls are back on top.

Even though Ryan came into last year with very little experience, it’s still difficult to be on the team that ended a championship streak.

But there’s no doubt all of the former players were happy with the result of Monday’s game.

“I got some texts, Jazmine Gonzalez sent me one that said congratulations,” McDonald said. “She was the goalie before I got here, I was her backup when I was a freshman. Those players were very supportive all year and last year, so it’s nice to hear from them after we won.

“And I’m happy for all the girls who didn’t win one before. This feels so good. When (the game ended), I just couldn’t believe it. I knew once we scored, I had to really step up and make sure we won, and we did it. We won the championship.”

Next year, McDonald will be one of the graduates who will text the players and offer whatever advice she can. After being more of a leader by example during her first three years at the school, McDonald became more demonstrative this year. It was a role she shied away from, but now embraces.

“I think this year I was one of the louder players on the team,” McDonald said. “I didn’t like doing it before, but I got more comfortable doing it. And I like when people encourage me, so I tried to do it to help the other players.”

She’ll be there for them next year, too, and she already knows the advice she wants to pass on.

“You can’t take the game for granted, and winning feels so much better,” McDonald said. “And you can’t play for yourself, you have to play for the team. When you do that, things are better.”

McDonald still has some business to take care of at Ryan, and that could be the end of her soccer career.

Despite constant calls from college coaches to Geist, McDonald is leaning toward focusing on school work in college. Things could change, but for now, she’ll go out on top.

“I don’t think I can commit to giving it everything I have and if I can’t do that, I don’t want to play,” said McDonald, who has yet to pick a major. “And it would be kind of fun to win a championship and then stop playing. It’s the perfect ending.” ••