By Larry Moko
Big sister knows best.
When Francesca Pugliese followed her older sister Ava’s instruction Thursday, it led to the winning goal for the St. Thomas More Knights senior girls’ high school soccer team.
That goal – by Francesca – came three minutes from the final whistle as the visitors from More edged the St. John Henry Newman Cardinals, 2-1, in the 2023 Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic championship game.
During that set piece, More executed a free kick from Newman’s 40-yard-line.
“My sister, Ava, took the free kick,” Francesca said. “Basically, I wanted to take the free kick. But she said ‘no, you go in (near the goal area).’ So I went in, followed the ball and just tapped it in.”
Ava, incidentally, is headed to Southern Illinois University next fall on a soccer scholarship. And eventually, Francesca, hopes to land a scholarship to a United States school, too.
Both teams advance to the Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference semifinals on May 29.
Newman will face the Halton Catholic winner while the defending OFSAA champions from More play host to Oakville’s Garth Webb Chargers.
Both GHAC semifinal winners automatically advance to the OFSAA AAA tournament, June 8-10 in Grimsby.
“That’s three in a row … it’s never happened before,” Knights coach Giovanni Carboni said of the Hamilton Catholic titles More captured in 2019, ’22 and this year (the pandemic cancelled the’20 and’21 seasons).
More (6-1) finished second in the regular-season standings behind Newman (7-0). And in their regular season meeting with More, the Cardinals won, 2-1.
Said Carboni: “They have quick players. They are well organized and better even than the last time we played them.”
Newman started strong in the rematch and took the lead in the first half on a goal by Grade 11 outside forward, Kathryn Dzioba. She intercepted a pass on the play and quickly lofted a shot from 12 yards that soared over the outstretched arm of the Knights’ goalkeeper.
“When Kathryn is on her game she is very hard to stop,” Newman coach Chris Bartolomeo said. “She’s probably one of the best in the city. She’s been involved in almost all of the goals we’ve scored this year. She’s tough to contain.”
More tied the contest in the 32nd minute when Janelle Sylvestre headed in a free kick.
Overall, in the first half, the Cardinals held a territorial edge and enjoyed more of the scoring chances.
“We weren’t sorted out at the back in the beginning,” Carboni said. “I had to make adjustments. I moved people around. Then, we played better.”
Despite the loss, Bartolomeo said he was “very satisfied” with the compete level of his team. “I can’t be upset,” he said. “We started off very hot and generated a lot of chances. The tempo of the game stayed fast. It was a hard-fought game by two very good teams.”
Carboni says More’s strength is in the midfield with a player up front (Samantha DeStephanis) who can finish.
“We tried to make the game where we’re strong, in the middle,” he said. “We tried to control it that way.”
“(Newman) was a very worthy opponent,” Carboni said. “I guess we can see them in the GHAC final if we get there.”
Other More players on the roster include Grace Ammendolia, Ayla Bates, Ana Bekic, Brianna Beltrame, Alexa Burgio, Sophie Clark, Adrianna Douliou, Giulia Fanara, Emma Mayens, Ava Milligan, Callea Mule, Emilie Nicolas, Alyssia Perri, Maddy Rodrigues and Grace Young.