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Westtown girls' soccer team celebrates championship season

It all looked as if it wasn't going to add up for the Westtown girls' soccer team. There was the heartbreaking semifinal loss in the Friends' Schools League playoffs a year ago.

It all looked as if it wasn't going to add up for the Westtown girls' soccer team.

There was the heartbreaking semifinal loss in the Friends' Schools League playoffs a year ago.

There was the graduation of the program's all-time leading scorer, Emily Sands, who went on to play college ball at Penn.

A roster that listed only 14 players.

And then there was the 2-2 start.

All signs pointed to a rebuilding year for the Moose.

Then the team - which features seven freshmen or sophomores in the starting lineup - went ahead and won a state championship anyway.

"I would have never, ever thought that we would get even close to the finals, let alone winning," Sara Oswald said. "We had a letdown season last year, but we knew a lot of good freshmen were coming in. So we were excited about that. I would have thought we would do well on the season and work really hard to get to the FSL championship. But definitely no, not get to states with such a young team.

"It all turned out so differently than I imagined."

Much differently than they all could have imagined, really.

So, what was the formula for a team that seemed poised for future successes after maybe a bumpy year?

The return of star midfielder Emily Coe to the lineup after injury for one.

A switch to a 3-5-2 formation for another.

And the dynamic offensive duo of Oswald and Relly Ladner combined with the stingy defense anchored by goalie Natalie Neumann as well as backs Val Thomson and Natalia Santangelo.

"Our speed of play is high," Ladner said. "But one thing that we did well this year was when something bad would come up, we would stay positive. Our positivity contributed to our high intensity, and high intensity with quick ball movement is what got us where we were at the end of the season."

A loss at the hands of Moorestown Friends changed things for Westtown (15-6), one of two defeats that dramatically impacted the course of the season. The other, a tough loss to Shipley School in the FSL final, also changed the squad's mindset.

"We learned how to win, how to play to win," co-coach Paul Lehmann said. "We were playing not to lose in the second half of the Shipley game. We let the moment of a big game overwhelm us, but it was the best thing that could have happened to us."

"A young team could decide to pack it in after a loss like that," he added. "Instead, they really came together."

And together, Westtown put on one heck of a run, outscoring opponents, 10-1, over the course of four state tournament games as the seventh seed, conceding only one penalty kick in that span.

First they beat Notre Dame. Then Episcopal. Followed by a win at Baldwin before defeating Springside Chestnut Hill, 1-0, Wednesday in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association title game.

The final three opponents were squads that had previously defeated the Moose during the regular season.

"You can see data point to data point the improvement and the drive to get better," Lehmann said. "It really played out. To have the opportunity for redemption four, five times and then to actually pull it off, it's unique. It's special, no question."

For Ladner, the question is: when will the banner be hoisted to celebrate the accomplishment?

"I think being able to see the banner up at school is going to be awesome," the midfielder said. "We are the first girls' team to win a state championship, so to know we didn't just win it for girls' soccer but for our whole school is amazing. Hopefully it will go up soon."

Neumann has loftier questions in mind.

"I'll be disappointed if we don't win next year," she said. "That's what I'm focusing on. How many championships can we win? How much can we improve?"

Looks like things have added up just fine.