Merion Mercy going places under DeLeo

Posted: November 01, 2013

It all started with a bench.

Not the bench itself, but its location. Specifically, it started with the idea that the status quo for Merion Mercy field hockey had not been good enough and that even the simplest of switches can communicate the greatest of changes.

For first-year coach Dani DeLeo in 2011, that meant moving the location of the home bench from the left side of Merion Mercy's field - a longtime Merion Mercy tradition for field hockey and soccer - to the right side.

The move, DeLeo said, would instill the notion that things would be run differently with her as coach.

"I walked in and said, 'No, we're going to move this,' " DeLeo said. "It was important for me to make these girls understand that this is new. I didn't want any complacency."

Two years later, Merion Mercy, a perennial afterthought in a Catholic Academies league that has been dominated in recent years by Villa Maria - has taken its program to the next level.

The Golden Bears, the No. 5 seed in the District 1 Class AA playoffs, have advanced to the district final for the first time since 2008. They will face No. 2 Upper Perkiomen for the championship at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Wissahickon.

Merion Mercy beat top-ranked conference foe Gwynedd Mercy, 2-1, on Tuesday to advance to the finals. It was the Golden Bears' third win of the year against the Monarchs, who split the Catholic Academies title with Villa Maria.

Win or lose on Saturday, Merion Mercy is guaranteed a spot in the PIAA Class AA state tournament for the third time in program history.

As for how historic the run has been, DeLeo couldn't say, and she didn't care to say. She has made a point to consider only the team's success since she took over as coach three years ago.

"The past is in the past. This is a new program and new girls," DeLeo said. "We've historically always had great student-athletes and a great program, but we're trying to do things differently now. I want it to be a powerhouse."

The distinction of powerhouse in the Catholic Academies recently has belonged to Villa Maria, which had won six District 1 Class AA titles in a row and was a back-to-back state finalist entering this season.

However, after it was announced that longtime Hurricanes coach Maurene Polley would be taking the year off, it seemed the league would be up for grabs.

Conversations about league supremacy mostly involved Gwynedd Mercy and Mount St. Joseph, teams that Merion Mercy went a combined 5-1 against this year. Senior captain Cathy Gormley said the parity in her team's scoring has allowed the Golden Bears to remain under the radar.

"I think it's an advantage," Gormley said. "Our team has so much talent, but we don't have one star player. We play as a team. That's why we're so good this year."

District 1 Class AAA. No. 1 seed West Chester Henderson will face No. 2 Central Bucks South in the District 1 Class AAA final at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Wissahickon.

District 12 championship. The winners of the Philadelphia Catholic League and Philadelphia Public League - both decided Wednesday night - will meet for the District 12 championship at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Germantown super site.

Friends. No. 1 seed Academy of the New Church will host No. 2 Germantown Friends in the Friends Schools League championship game at 2:45 p.m. Friday.


jcranney@philly.com

@joey_cranney

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