LYNN, Mass. -– Standing at the penalty spot with the chance to clinch her side the Division 2 state title, Notre Dame Academy senior striker Gabriela Kenyon had no doubt that she was going to make it.
“During the Scituate game, I put one away, so I was confident that I was going to make it,” said Kenyon afterwards. “I knew it was in. I knew it. I knew we were going to win this game.”
The shot was much closer than that confidence may let on. The ball barely squeezed past Wilmington keeper Kellie Souza’s fingertips and struck the post, but angled back into the net. The goal capped off a great final and clinched the Cougars the championship.
“Gabby has definitely got it done for us this year,” said head coach Elizabeth Mustafoski. “She always scores when we need it most and she’s been a rock for us.”
Notre Dame keeper Margaret Elliott had her struggles during regulation, but she stepped up to save the first penalty and the teams traded a miss apiece to set up Kenyon’s attempt at the winner. Kenyon noted that the team had worked all week on penalties to prepare for the final.
“We’ve been practicing all week for PKs,” she said. “Our goalie is amazing at saving them and we knew we had this; we knew it. It feels amazing; I’m speechless, still can’t really comprehend what happened.”
The ending was perfect for Notre Dame (21-2), but the game could not have gotten off to a worse start. Just two minutes into the game, a long pass forward slipped underneath Elliott’s body and Wilmington senior Alexandra Bischoff was in perfect position to run onto the loose ball and tap it into the empty net.
It took a few minutes following the goal, but soon the Cougars started to find a rhythm offensively and started to play with their customary style. Mustafoski admitted that there were some nerves to overcome early in the game.
She explained, “We play a possession style and it does take some time to get the nerves out, settle in, and knock the ball around. Luckily, this is as nice of a field as you can play on so we can play our game.”
Mustafoski added, “We made a couple of mistakes, but the important thing was that we were able to shake it off and come back and win the game.”
Notre Dame evened the score with six minutes remaining to halftime. A long pass over the top by Parker DiNatale landed in between the back line and Souza. Kenyon read the bounce, beat the keeper to the ball, and nodded home her 36th goal of the season.
The Notre Dame attacking foursome of Kenyon, sophomores Hannah Volpe and Kristen McCrea, and junior Sarah Rawson was a constant menace to the Wilmington back line. Volpe, in particular, continuously found space between the midfield and the back four and it opened up a lot of lanes. Wildcats centerbacks Devyn Malatesta and Kelly Hartsough were consistently forced to mop up inside the Wilmington box.
“They’re dangerous and they’re young,” said Mustafoski about her attacking corps. “Hannah Volpe up top with Gabby, they work really well together. Hannah is a very technical player; she can hold the ball and take people on.”
The Cougars momentum carried over to the second half. Kenyon had an early shot that went right at Souza and then, in the 51st minute, the Cougars got a free kick about 25 yards from goal. Junior defender Elissa Dukeshire hit it perfectly and it flew into the net over Souza to make it 2-1.
Much like Wilmington’s goal in the first half, the Notre Dame goal seemed to spark the opposition into life. Bischoff struck the bar with a header before another ball over the top two minutes later caused the Notre Dame defense fits and Rachael Mara was able to head home the game-tying goal.
Wilmington head coach Sue Hendee expressed her pride in the Wildcats ability to bounce back in the second half.
She noted, “They’ve done that consistently throughout the season. They’ve been really good about reacting well to different situations.”
Wilmington (19-2-1) nearly took the lead in the 18th minute. Senior Kaitlyn Curley picked out sophomore Casey McFall at the edge of the 18 but her shot struck the bar. The rebound fell to a Wilmington player at the far post but Elliott scrambled across to block the shot with her legs. Kenyon would have one more chance before the end of regulation that Souza saved.
Neither team created much in the first overtime. In the second, Bischoff nearly got on the end of a through ball by Jordyn Granara, but Elliott scooped it up. Allison Zaccheo forced Souza into a diving save and Kenyon nearly had the winner but pulled it just wide on a quick counterattack.
Mustafoski marveled, “It was a really exciting game; it was really back and forth. I knew that this team had a lot of character and would bounce back.”
Hendee echoed those sentiments. She remarked, “I couldn’t be any more proud of these girls…that was an absolutely incredible game.”