The Villa Joseph Marie soccer team has a most apt motto that beseeches them, “To play with two hearts.” The history of the Jems' success certainly demonstrates how well the girls mind this adage. They know all about playing a determined and selfless brand of soccer.
In the 26 years the PIAA has featured a girls’ state championship game, Villa has made 18 appearances in the final dance. They have captured the outright title a record 11 times. Under present coach Rich Finneyfrock the Jems have made six straight appearances in the title game. They defeated Blue Mountain 1-0 to take last year’s crown.
Jackie Levins, senior tri-captain along with Jillian Hunter and Julia Beck, attributed the Jems' success to their unity and work ethic. “We always have a quote we say. ‘Play with two hearts.' We need everyone to come out with the fullest ability they can and give 110 percent all game, all 80 minutes," said Beck. "Come to the game and perform.”
The very spirit of Villa Jo, both on and off the field, certainly reinforces such thinking. It is the very reason Jackie chose the Holland campus. “I’ve had a lot of family friends who went to Villa," she said. "Villa was always in my mind and I knew I wanted to go to Villa. Soccer was like an add on to that. Their having such a phenomenal program made it even better. Coach Finn (Rich Finneyfrock) is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. He’s really, really good and knows exactly what he is talking about.”
In addition to coach Finn’s guidance, Jackie also found a group of talented and devoted athletes, ones who best suited her own soccer dreams. “I love the competition and being able to play with the girls I do because I love having a close, tight-knit group of girls that are so good at soccer," she said. "It makes me love it even more.”
All the Jems are aware of their storied history, one that makes them a marked team. “A lot of teams really do come out for us because they want to beat the previous state champ," said Jackie. "They try and take us down. We just have a standard we have to uphold every year and we try and reach it. We always play for the people who have played before us. There’s a big legacy to live up to.”
The legacy undoubtedly influenced the thinking of this year’s Villa team. Though starting with their usual winning ways, the girls felt they were not living up to their own high standards. Jackie summed up the feeling, saying, “We actually had a shaky start. We did not think we’d make it this far. We all played as individual players and did not connect well. Around mid-season we started connecting and finding our passes. That made us stronger as a team. We did a bunch of team bonding.”
Coach Finn, who has certainly seen his share of talented teams, offered his wisdom. “Coach Finn gave us an after-game talk and said this isn’t the team you guys should be. We have such high expectations and we sat around and pondered what he said. We said we have to become more of a team and really connect.”
The time of reflection worked. Villa went on to win the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies crown with a 7-1 record, losing only a close 1-0 battle to Nazareth. They then took first place in the PIAA District One Class 3A playoffs setting up yet another trip to the state playoffs.
The Jems opened the state run with a convincing 3-0 over Conrad Weiser, behind second half goals by Kate Sullivan, Shea Riley, and Julia Beck. In Jackie’s estimation, “The first half was not our half at all. We came out really laid back. Our mentality was not good. The halftime talk Finn gave us really fired us up and we began the second half as a team. We came out to win.”
In the quarterfinal game the Jems reversed their fortunes. Behind a first half goal by Katie Sullivan and two from Julia Beck, Villa defeated Berwick, 3-0. “It was a physical game, but seeing how we played in the first half of the Conrad Weiser game, we knew what we had to do," said Jackie. "We scored all our goals in the first half.”
Villa had seen their semi-final opponent, Archbishop Ryan, earlier in the regular season. “We had played Ryan before and beat them 1-0 so we knew they would come out with the mentality that we (Ryan) have to beat them," said Jackie. "We knew they were going to be a tough team. They are very physical. We knew what we had to do. They were the only thing standing between us and Hershey.”
Behind goals by Jillian Hunter and Katie Sullivan, Villa captured a 2-0 victory, thus assuring another trip to Hershey Stadium and a showdown with District 7 champion Mars, a team sporting a 22-0-1 record.
In what proved to be an even struggle, the Jems were not able to blemish the undefeated record, losing a 1-0 heartbreaker to the Fightin’ Planets. A goal by Mars’ Taylor Hamlett with six minutes left in the first half would prove the game’s only tally.
Though failing in their bid for a second consecutive state title Villa Jo had once again shown they “play with two hearts.” That spirit will undoubtedly prevail when the Jems take to the field next fall.