The player with perhaps the largest impact on Monday's soccer game was not the most obvious. She was, however, the most visible, if one knew where to look. She had a hand in every play, silently leading her Owen J. Robert's teammates to a 5-0 win.
Owen J.'s girls took to the pitch at Pottsgrove carrying heavy hearts and wearing purple armbands in memory of their deceased teammate, Kelsey Kramer.
Kelsey, 16, was injured in a one-vehicle car crash Wednesday and died the next day.
"That's Kelsey's favorite color," said Owen J. Roberts head coach Joe Margusity. The shade was everywhere, as both teams met at midfield before the game for a moment of silence. Besides the armbands, Falcons players wore purple pre-wrap and headbands and the Wildcat's goalkeeper wore a purple uniform.
"We honored Kelsey the best we could today," Pottsgrove head coach Stephen Mellor said. "We knew that they had heavy hearts and their minds were in different places. We respect the fact that they came out here and competed like they did. Hopefully … it got their mind away from what has transpired the last couple of days."
The game began as a back and forth affair, with both teams striking and parrying into the other's side of the field. Neither offense could gain much of a foothold, with solid individual defense forcing the action outside and away from the goals. The offensive pressure slowly began to turn in the Wildcat's favor, as the Falcon's defense, led by Lily Read, tried to hold off the mounting tide. Despite Read's disruptive presence in the back end, Owen J.'s attack paid off late in the half, as Taylor Murphy caught a Juliana Provini ball off the chest and knocked it past Pottsgrove keeper Allie Neel.
Following the goal, the Wildcats seemed to find a new purpose and energy.
"There were a lot of distractions before the game," Margusity said. "I think they needed to get into the flow and just remember that this is a safe place to be and you have 90 minutes of being able to forget about things for a while. And remember that it's fun to play soccer."
Crisp, efficient passing, control of the midfield and domination of balls played in the air knocked the Grove back on their collective heels.
"The first 30 minutes were pretty good," Mellor said of the first half. "Than in the last 10 minutes, we were just taking on a little bit too much pressure. We weren't clearing our lines; got a little bit lazy. We looked complacent."
That complacency cost the Falcons dearly. Sloppy passing and an inability to clear the defensive end of the field quickly gave momentum to the visitors. Steph Tamburro added a second tally for the Wildcats, with Gabby McKee's free kick setting up the scoring opportunity. Maddy Cantello also found net for the Red and White, and what had seemed to be an even contest had quickly turned into a 3-0 Pottsgrove deficit at halftime.
"They're a good team," Mellor said. "We just didn't do the little things … if we would've gone in at the half zero-zero, it would have been a completely different game."
Pottsgrove's defense improved in the second, desperately fighting off the relentless Wildcat's offensive. The passing woes continued, and the Falcons looked timid and shell shocked following the first. Tori Colye and her teammates could only get off a few clean shots on net, as Owen J.'s ball control stifled the Pottsgrove offense. After the Falcons fended off four consecutive corner kicks, Owen J. finally put the finishing touches on the game with an Emily Morgan goal.
Despite the score, Margusity knows how tough this was for his girls.
"They've been crying for the last three days," Margusity said when asked how the Wildcats played. "They showed a lot of strength to come out and compete. But you could tell that they were very emotionally drained."