Downingtown senior center Madison Bundra /// Photo: John Galvin
Pennsylvania has contested a few weeks of league, and Downingtown and State College have distinguished themselves early on. Both have posted lopsided scores, the former tested itself at the Maryland Exiles tournament last weekend, and the latter has committed to single-school nationals in late May. This Saturday, the two will meet to decide first place in the standings.
Downingtown has advanced to every state final, but the previous two years resulted in second-place finishes. Fortunately, Downingtown only graduated one player from last year’s team, and a core of 10 seniors is leading a movement that reaches into the junior high ranks. On a good day, 35 players are pushing each other at practice, and 7th and 8th graders are playing in B side games and picking up field time as games allow.
“From very early on, we agreed that our goal was to get back to the state title game and win it,” Downingtown coach Matt Dziunycz said of this year’s group. “It really helped to have some of the girls in the fall 7s league. They got their skills up and it stayed with them through the winter while we did our strength and conditioning things. I really noticed it when we started in the spring. The hands are better, the lines are cleaner. They’ve done an exceptional job.”
Downingtown started with a 46-14 win over Doylestown, followed with a 69-12 win over West Shore United, and then shut out the Valkyries 36-0.
“That was a big boost for us,” Dziunycz said of the win over the reigning state champion. “We played them twice last year and couldn’t get on the board. That was a measuring stick for where we are right now.”
Downingtown followed with three big wins at the Maryland Exiles international tournament, defeating Canada’s Holy Trinity, Fort Hunt and the host. With the absence of several players attending the junior prom, 7th and 8th graders were able to bank field time. They played great defense while only allowing five points against and moved the ball well.
Keeping it all together is senior co-captain Abby Boyd. The flanker is a natural leader, excels in the tackle, and has been getting the ball a lot this year and scoring. Boyd gets support from Cecilie Geraghty, another excellent contributor in the forwards. She has shifted her influence from the try zone to the contact area and ruck. Her work is key to ball retention and turnovers.
The backline is unchanged from 2015, and senior centers Madison Bundra and co-captain Madalyn Morely continue to be effective attackers.
“Every week that passes, the confidence goes up,” Dziunycz said. “The best thing about Downingtown is that try we try to push across all teams the idea of family. That we’re stronger and tougher when we work together. The results and the culture are coming together this year, and they really care about each other.”
Despite the successes, Downingtown is remaining cautiously optimistic about the season. Saturday’s game against Bernie Cantorna’s State College will go a long way in determining how far each side has come, but Dziunycz indicated it’s too early to forecast title contenders.
“In late February, March, we get outside, but we’re battling the weather, the kids are wet, we’re renting 4H halls and trying to find turf field,” Dziunycz said. “When we get to the state playoffs in May, that’s when teams are finally putting it together. Everyone is a lot stronger.”
The Pennsylvania state championship is May 14-15, a week before single-school nationals. Stay tuned as the 15s league peaks, and then the state’s best compete for a spot on the Regional Cup Tournament all-star team.