PHILADELPHIA, PA. 9/13/2018 – The Villanova Wildcats and the Saint Joseph’s Hawks, city rivals that met on the women’s soccer pitch of Sweeney Field. A city game that attracted a sizable crowd. The Saint Joseph’s faithful were there, the rooting section featured by the Saint Joe’s drum. The Villanova contingent was noticed, flag and all. A drizzle did not and could not damped the enthusiasm of the fans. At the end of the evening Villanova got a goal from Chole O’Neill in the 31st minute to give the Cats a 1 – 0 victory. The story of the evening was how meaningful these local game can be for the sport.
“It is extremely important, and now we have two teams of this caliber, it is really exciting,” said Villanova Coach Chris McLain. “You want to give the kids something to remember. We have two world class teams and that should keep the crowds coming.”
“It was so nice, and we said to our team that we needed to keep the ball and get the crowd into the game,” said Saint Joseph’s Coach Jess Mannella.
“You have the Philly thing where you want to protect your territory. We want to be the best in Philly every year, that is one of our goals.”
The Wildcats kept the pressure on early taking a territorial advantage. They could not break through until late in the opening half. The Cats got inside the Hawks defense. Forward Bri Austin sent a cross from the right end line to O’Neill who settled the ball, and patiently turned to put the ball onto an open net. The freshman from Plantation, Florida leads her team in points (nine) with 3 goals and 3 assists.
“You can see in our attack that we are not lumped on one side,” McLain said. “We are trying to create numerical advantages. Balls will pop out like that, and she (O’Neill) showed that she is a class striker, be composed, take a touch, and put it home.”
The Hawks pressed in the second half. Forward Dakota Mills was turned away at the net by a Wildcat defender in the 59th minute. In the 85th minute SJU midfielder Michaela Finneyfrock sent a header toward the goal that was cleared away prior to crossing the line.
Women’s Soccer is growing in the area. At this time all six of the local Division I programs have multiple wins, all posting winning records. The state of the game is strong and getting stronger.
“Every time we play a city school, it’s an absolute war,” said McLain. “To be fair to Saint Joseph’s and to ourselves, we have teams that can compete with anyone in the country. “You saw that last year when Saint Joe’s beat Ohio State. You saw that with our beating an LSU. You are staring to see it’s not just about a Power Five conferences. It’s about finding the right players that love these big time academic schools. Players that want to change their lives, not just not have a great four year soccer career. We are going to get better players, and it’s huge for academic schools like ours.”
The Wildcats improve to 5 – 3 this season. The team will conclude its non-conference schedule on Monday hosting Siena.
“We are lucky that we have New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, all good soccer areas,” Mannella said. We are fighting for the same pool, but it is a large talented pool of players. Every city game is amazing, and it is nice to see the teams doing well and being successful.”
Saint Joe’s concludes a four-game home stand on Sunday against Cornell before entering conference play.
Written By: Glenn Papazian