Playing soccer for Villa Jo Marie certainly takes talent and determination, a fact shown by their numerous district and state playoff appearances. There is, however, and even greater quality called for in being a Jem. You are part of a team.
Rachael Senyk, who along with Sam Agnew and Tara Schmidt serve as tri-captains of this year’s squad, sums up the feeling, “We’re very close. Personally, I’m close to all the grades. You’re not just close to your grade but all grades above and below you. We re just a close team and we work on that a lot. It’s a total team effort.”
The unity is evident not only in the way the girls work together on the field but the support they offer on the sideline. “Everybody cheers on both varsity and junior varsity. It’s a part of Villa soccer. Honestly when you’re on the bench cheering it’s a lot more fun then just sitting there watching the game. When your cheering you’re encouraging the others and when you’re on the field playing you hear them cheering and you say ‘Oh I have to play for them.’”
One cheer that inevitably arises in any Jem game is, “We are Villa, the mighty, mighty Villa.” The Jems have certainly earned that descriptive. They have won eight District One Class AAA titles in a row. They have appeared in the last four state championship games. This year, they dominated the District One Class AAA field defeating Upper Moreland 3-0, Shanahan 5-0 and Villa Maria 3-1.
The togetherness obviously translates into smooth play on the field. Rachael describes Villa soccer saying, “Our game is really just finding feet and moving the ball around until you find an open player. Once you get to the final third you just have to put it away. Our game is moving the ball around instead of kick-and-run.”
That style of play suits Rachael’s very reason for playing soccer. “Its always been a part of my life. I love the drive I get when I’m on the field. I just relax and forget about everything that’s going on. It’s so much fun when I’m on the field with my friends.”
Rachael, who plans to play ball for High Point University next fall, still has work to do in her scholastic career. Villa started their quest for another state championship appearance with a tough 1-0 overtime victory over Lower Dauphin, a team they had defeated in last year’s state playoff semi-finals.
Familiarity with their opponent helped Villa in this opening round game. “We played them last year so we knew they were going to be good. We were familiar with some of their players from last year and how their speed of play was. We knew it would be an aggressive game and we had to come out equally aggressive.”
The Jems stuck with their usual strategy as they faced their District Three opponent. “We just wanted to stay calm and if things didn’t go our way to stay positive. We just played our game passing the ball round and taking the game to them and not letting them take it to us.”
Villa kept pressuring the Dauphin’s goalie, Jamie Schaefer but could not quite finish off the contest. Midway through the overtime Kennedy Kilchrist booted a low liner that Schaefer managed to corral. Thirty seconds later Jillian Hunter got off a shot that appeared headed for the far left corner of the net. Schaefer again came up with a great save.
Just when it appeared the two teams were heading for a second overtime Hunter managed to come up with a loose ball in front of the Lower Dauphin net and send home the game winner. The goal kicked off a euphoric celebration by the Villa players.
Rachael cherished the moment. “It’s a great feeling because you know you’re moving forward and you’re all happy and relieved because you think, ‘Yes, we did it!’ You don’t want to go into overtime knowing it’s a golden goal but you are relieved when it’s over.”
The Jems had taken one more step in reaching their season goal. “Obviously, everyone’s goal is to make it back to states. All the seniors, juniors and sophomores really want to go back. Our ultimate goal is playing our game of soccer, focusing on each specific game one at a time and moving from there.”
Based on their success in soccer, the formula certainly has worked for the Villa Jo ‘family’.
UPDATE: On Tuesday, Nov. 13 Villa Joseph Marie defeated Mechanisburg, 2-1, in the PIAA Class 3A Semifinals as the Gems advanced to its fifth straight PIAA title game. They are scheduled to play Distgrict 11 champion Blue Mountain at Hersheypark Stadium on Nov. 16 for the title.