After being added to the varsity team partway through her freshman year, sophomore Gianna Monaco became the team’s secret weapon this year.
During his first season as head coach, Jon Geist needed some offense.
He didn’t have to look far. He only had to look to his junior varsity team.
“One day before a game, (Geist) came to me and told me I was going to play in the varsity game,” said Gianna Monaco, now a sophomore on the Archbishop Ryan High School soccer team. “This was in the middle of the year last year. I played in the game and I did pretty good, and I was getting ready to play in the JV game, which was right after the varsity game and I was told I couldn’t play.
“The next practice, I was told I wasn’t practicing with the JV team, but I was on the varsity team. I was nervous because I was a freshman, but they were so helpful, the seniors and the other girls. They knew I was nervous, so they really helped me.”
Last year, Monaco greatly helped the Ragdolls offense.
This year, she was the offense.
After scoring nine goals as a freshman, Monaco has piled up 18 goals thus far, including the only goal in the Catholic League championship game during the Ragdolls’ 1–0 triumph over Lansdale Catholic. She also netted a pair in the city championship, as Ryan bested Central 5–1 at Northeast High School on Nov. 1.
The Ragdolls started their run in the state playoffs with a first-round game against Owen J. Roberts in a game that was played after the Times went to press.
Winning the city championship was nice, and bringing home the first state championship in school history would be special, but thus far, Monaco’s greatest feeling was helping the team reclaim its spot atop the Catholic League.
“Last year was tough for the seniors because they were great and they really did a good job,” said Monaco, who watched the Ragdolls lose in the playoffs last year after winning four straight Catholic League championships. “This year, the Catholic League was so important for us. I think we knew all along we could win it, but still, when we actually won it, it was such a great feeling. It was worth all of the work we put in.”
Monaco’s goal was the difference in the game, so that was clearly the biggest goal of her young career, but that’s not what she remembers most about the contest.
“I thought the biggest thing was we didn’t let up after we got the lead,” the Somerton resident said. “In the final minutes, we kept the ball in their end. Our defense is great, but we tried to keep them from getting a chance. We kept the ball down there and it made it really hard for them to score.”
The Crusaders struggled scoring, but Monaco hasn’t had that problem.
She credits her play-making teammates for her success. She also credits the place that turned her into such a dynamic soccer player.
“I grew up playing for the Lansing Knights, and they taught me so much,” Monaco said. “They don’t have a lot of soccer teams so not a lot of people know about them, but they’re very good. I learned so much playing there.”
It helps to have great coaches and good teammates, but after some prodding, Monaco talked a little bit about her strengths.
“I think I’m pretty fast, so that helps,” Monaco said. “My speed in the midfield is a big asset. I work on it, but it also comes naturally. I still work hard, we all do.”
The Ragdolls’ attitude is probably more important to their success than their ability.
Despite going undefeated in Catholic League play, the Ragdolls have had their struggles. But those spells don’t last very long.
“Everyone on this team helps the other girls,” Monaco said. “There are times I’m down, and every other girl picks me up. The coaches do it, too. I think that’s why we’re having such a great season.”
And despite being just a sophomore, Monaco has become one of the leaders on the team. It’s because she knows exactly how the younger girls feel when they first step foot on the varsity field.
“I remember how nervous I was at first, so I know what they’re going through,” Monaco said. “Especially when we’re playing in Catholic League games. They’re so competitive. It’s tough. I always talk to them when something happens because I want them to know we all went through it. I just try and help them when they need it.”
And that will continue throughout this season and into next year.
“Winning feels a lot better than losing,” Monaco said. “This is why our coaches worked us so hard. They are tough, but they only want what’s best for us. We all want to win, and this year we worked so hard so we could do it.”
The Ragdolls weren’t the only Catholic League squad to enjoy success during the city championship, and that was bad news for local Public League squads.
In the AAA championship, Lansdale Catholic bested Benjamin Rush 6–0. And in the AA championship, Conwell-Egan got past Philadelphia Academy Charter 3–0. ••