They were golden girls who wore jerseys of green and white. Their stage was a soccer field, and their virtuoso performances would have made any maestro proud.
Those Green Knights of yesteryear certainly made Fairfield proud as they piled up victories and championships in a fashion that forced people to take notice of the small Adams County school. They made four consecutive trips to the District 3 finals beginning in 2016, a season in which they decimated the competition en route to a PIAA state title.
But as they say, all good things must come to an end, right? Maybe not.
As legendary players from those squads were annually lost to graduation, it was fair to wonder if Fairfield could sustain its incredibly high level of play. To date, that answer is a firm yes. The Knights captured their third district title in program history last Tuesday with a 2-0 victory over Mount Calvary Christian. This afternoon they look to take down Conwell-Egan in a PIAA Class 1A quarterfinal game at Warrior Stadium in Gettysburg.
“Fairfield graduated something of a golden generation in the spring,” said Knight head coach Owen Phelan. “Those were exceptionally talented players and they won a lot of games. They set an expectation that younger girls wanted to live up to. We’ve had girls behind on the bench with a lot of talent, waiting for their opportunity to play and show people.”
The 2020 Knights are stacking up quite nicely with those championship teams of the past, and they’ve done so while playing in the most unique and challenging season imaginable thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Normal offseason routines were shelved, practices adjusted and schedules stripped down. As flexible as players had to be this fall, the only constant was perhaps the fear of having their season shut down by COVID.
“As we look around some districts, regions and states that have shut stuff down, we’re grateful,” said Phelan. “There was a lot of anxiety, especially when the YAIAA decided to delay the beginning of the season. That made it longer to stay focused, but we kept practicing and moving in the right direction.”
Phelan believes a silver lining was found as kids were able to come together for practice, even if they weren’t able to share classrooms together.
“I think with so much happening online and being at home, they were very happy to get together and play,” he said.
The Knights will play together again this afternoon as they seek a spot in the Class 1A semifinals. Standing in their way is a Conwell-Egan club fresh off a 1-0 victory over District 1 champ Dock Mennonite that went to penalty kicks. The Eagles leaned on Samantha Terry and Julie McVey to position themselves for a victory before freshman Constance Wojton booted the winner.
Conwell-Egan has advanced to the state quarterfinals for the third time in five years, although it hasn’t reached the semis since 2012. Phelan believes the Eagles’ 3-5 record can be misleading.
The Eagles lost four straight games prior to their victory over Dock Mennonite but two of those setbacks came against Archbishop Carroll and Archbishop Wood, who are both in action today in state quarterfinal matches. Carroll (8-3) faces Cumberland Valley in a 4A tilt while Wood (7-1) meets Allentown Central Catholic in a 2A clash.
“They won their district, and that doesn’t just happen,” he said. “They’ve played a lot of larger schools that are strong teams. That is the kind of experience you can’t create in practice.”
Fairfield (12-1-1) brings plenty of momentum to the fray after Tuesday’s victory in which Erin Gregg and Emma Dennison notched goals. Senior Naia Roberts, the YAIAA-3 Player of the Year, assisted on both scores. Roberts and Liv Cliber are the two senior starters for Fairfield, which is young by class but not by experience.
“With so many younger players one of the things that helped us was that they’ve been playing together for close to 10 years,” said Phelan. “It wasn’t a complete reset of what everybody is trying accomplish. There is familiarity with each other.”
Roberts (7 goals, 4 assists) is the anchor, dictating offensive and defensive play.
“It’s always nice to have the player of the year on your team,” joked Phelan. “She asserts herself when you need something to happen and has a commanding presence in the midfield.
Therese Phelan (10 goals, 4 assists) and Dennison (6 goals, 7 assists) possess a scorer’s touch in the box while defenders Honey Strosnider and Audrey Chesko bolster a rock-solid defense.
That bar set by the golden girls of Fairfield’s past just might be within reach for a 2020 squad that may lack postseason repetitions but not a desire to join the program’s elite.
“We had confidence in ourselves coming into this season, and we knew we had girls that are hungry to win,” said Phelan.