Sarah Szychulski the Ragdolls big sister

Sarah Szychulski led the Ryan soccer team to the Catholic League championship game last year. CONTRIBUTED

Staying with one player? That’s easy.

Playing zone defense against eight siblings? That’s much more difficult.

Just ask Sarah Szychulski.

Szychulski is a senior defender on the Archbishop Ryan High School soccer team, and the oldest of nine siblings. When you throw in her parents, the Szychulskis could put out a starting 11. But it might take some time to get everyone up and running. Her newest family member is a week old.

The entire clan: Kevin, 16, Michael, 9, Luke, 7, Emily, 5, Juliana, 4, Veronica, 2, James, 1 and the newest member is Ava.

Her father, Kevin, was a star at North Catholic. He was All-Catholic in football in 1995 and baseball in 1995 and 1996, according to Her mother, Kathleen (Maenner), was a three-sport star at Little Flower, playing field hockey, volleyball and basketball.

“It’s great having all of them, it will be fun with the baby,” said Szychulski, who has a brother who is a junior and the rest of her siblings are under 10. “We’re a really close family, but a lot of times I’m the babysitter. I like it, I like being around them. We have a lot of fun together. This year a lot of them have been coming to the games.”

They’ve had reason to cheer.

Szychulski came up as a forward and has played just about everywhere because coach Jon Geist has a lot of confidence in his senior captain.

But last year, he started moving her to mark the other team’s best player, and it’s a role she does a lot this year.

It’s an important job because it’s her responsibility to take away the other team’s greatest scoring threat, but it’s a job she’s embraced.

With her leading the defense, the Ragdolls have jumped out to a 5-0 start in Catholic League play and have surrendered just four goals in their first five games. One of those goals was in a 6-1 blowout win over Conwell-Egan, another was an early goal to Archbishop Wood in a battle of unbeaten teams last week. Ryan ended up winning 2-1. They also surrendered two goals in their latest triumph, a 3-2 win over Archbishop Carroll.

“I love marking the other team’s best player, it really is challenging, but it’s fun because if you do your job, it takes away a lot of what the other team wants to do,” said Szychulski. “I’ve played everywhere, but I’ve always liked defense best.

“We have a good defense and the whole team is really good, it’s not just me. I’m just going out and trying to stay with whoever I’m covering, and everyone else does their job, too. We’re playing great defense as a team.”

The Ragdolls hope the stingy defense continues because they have high hopes and the season is just getting started.

Last year Ryan came into the season as the defending champ, but with a lot of inexperienced players. Talent guided the Ragdolls to a great season that included a first-place finish during the regular season and a trip to the Catholic League championship where they fell to Lansdale Catholic in an overtime heartbreaker.

It wasn’t the ending the girls wanted, but it certainly gave them a practice run for this year since the bulk of last year’s squad is back this year.

And that experience will not only let them know what they’re up against when the weather grows colder, but it will fuel their desire to bring the championship back to Ryan.

That’s how Szychulski sees it anyway.

“Last year was fun but it was hard when we lost,” Szychulski said. “I think we really wanted to win this year because of that. You don’t want to go out without winning one in your senior year. This is the biggest year, and we all think we can win. We all want to win this year.”

Szychulski has high hopes beyond high school.

Next year she wants to continue her soccer career and is in the process of sorting out where she’ll end up.

Her siblings have kind of given her a taste of the future. Because she likes dealing with kids, she hopes to major in education.

Dealing with kids, she enjoys.

Not only does she do it at home, she serves as an official at youth soccer games, and so far, it’s been a great experience.

She hasn’t even had a problem with parents.

“I love it, I like seeing that side of the game, too,” said Szychulski, who also plays club soccer all year with Coppa and works at Champs Pizza. “I haven’t had any problems. It’s a fun job, I like being around soccer and the kids.”

Officiating a game might be fun, but her ultimate goal is to have a great final year at Ryan. That certainly includes hanging a banner.

“Our goal is to win the PCL and have a good run in states,” Szychulski said. “Winning the Catholic League is always the biggest goal, but we think we can have a run in states, too. After we finish the Catholic League, we still think we can win games. That’s our goal this year.”