Call Eva LaVecchia’s championship-winning goal a happy accident.
When the junior defender on the St. Anthony’s girls soccer team sent a ball 35 yards toward the net, she wasn’t necessarily thinking "goal" in the back of her mind. But she’ll take the result.
"I was going for the cross, but it just went into the goal," LaVecchia said. "[I was] very surprised. I don’t usually score, I’m a defender but there, I was just in shock, honestly."
LaVecchia perfectly placed the ball in the upper-left corner of the net with 28:11 remaining in the opening half for the game’s lone goal in host St. Anthony’s 1-0 victory over Sacred Heart in the girls soccer CHSAA ‘AA’ championship Saturday morning.
"That was actually crazy," LaVecchia said. "I did not expect that to happen."
And crazy may be the perfect word to describe this fall season for the CHSAA. When players and coaches took the field for their first team activity September 21, everyone involved idealized crowing a champion mid-November without interference from COVID-19. And that's what happened.
"All my other friends in public school, they are so jealous because I’m out here playing and they don’t have a season, so I just thought it was so good," LaVecchia said. "As soon as we found out we had a season, it was just the best news ever."
The Friars capped off their 9-0 season with their fourth-straight league title. Without the opportunity to compete for a fourth-straight state title as well, players and coaches focused on what they could control and accomplish.
"We knew we wanted to get to this point, so we had to take all precautions possible, so we were very happy we got here," midfielder Emily Riggins said "It was different, but we got through it."
"It’s been super hectic," midfielder Chiara Greco said. "We’ve had our ups and downs and it’s been hard at times. But just the fact that we got here and were able to do it, we couldn’t have asked for it to have gone any better."
Both teams played aggressive and generated scoring opportunities in a physical matchup Saturday. The St. Anthony’s backline of Milan Carey, Sonni Adams and LaVecchia along with Natalie DeMasi and Greco helped limit Sacred Heart’s clean looks. But goalkeeper Annabella Cole needed to make some key stops -- including a pivotal save with 28 minutes left in the contest from a near point-blank shot. Kate Boyle had 12 saves to contain the St. Anthony’s attack for Sacred Heart (5-4-1).
"I honestly didn’t know what to feel in the moment because I knew Sacred Heart was going to bring their ‘A’ game," said Cole, who had seven saves. "I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game."
And after months of uncertainty about the ability to start a season and a few weeks of holding onto hope it would be completed, all participants were just relieved to crown a champion.
"I’m happy for all the girls in the Catholic league to be able to play their season," coach Sue Alber said. "And extremely happy for our seniors to go out like this and our whole team to win it again, so it’s a successful year all year around."
St. Anthony’s had contributions from its entire roster this fall. Along with physical injuries, positives within schools forced players to quarantine and the unknowns were often difficult to manage.
"Honestly, it was very hard this season just to get to this point, especially with COVID," Cole said. "We didn’t know when our season could just end, especially playing [the semifinals] with 15 people. It was really hard for us because we didn’t know what to expect."
But in the end, the Friars ended as they wanted. Champions.
"It’s a great outlet," coach Sue Alber said. "Everyone had that tough March, April, May, you had nothing going on in your lives, you didn’t know what was going to happen, so to have this outlet for these kids to be able to come every day and play and compete and play for the league title on a gorgeous day, it’s just amazing. It’s a great feeling."
"No matter how talented you are and how good you are, it’s always hard to do it four years in a row," Alber said. "And go undefeated, so I’m proud of the group, proud of the girls and this year, it showed we had a lot of depth. Every single player stepped up this year."