Soccer, Basketball, Lacrosse
Favorite athlete: Alex Morgan
Favorite team: USWNT
Favorite memory competing in sports: Home playoff (soccer) game at night in the rain against Souderton in sophomore year
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened in sports: Wiping out after getting decked in a lacrosse game (there’s a really funny picture from it)
Music on playlist: “Our Song” by Taylor Swift
Future plans: Penn State
Words to live by: “Win the Day!” -Jason Taylor
One goal before turning 30: Travel to each of the continents
One thing people don't know about me: I'm obsessed with anything Marvel
By Mary Jane Souder
Fiona Gooneratne finds herself in some very elite company in the world of high school sports. When the Plymouth Whitemarsh senior graduates next spring, she will have earned 12 varsity letters, the first at PW to earn that distinction since 2018.
Not that Gooneratne cares about earning a spot with an impressive list of athletes. She doesn’t. Underscoring just how uncomfortable the PW senior is in the spotlight is something PW soccer coach TJ DeLucia noticed when watching film of his team’s games.
“Multiple times she scores and puts her head down immediately,” the PW coach said. “She doesn’t even want to celebrate her own goal.
“On Monday, she celebrated her game-winner in overtime, so it was fun to see her celebrate, but oftentimes, she doesn’t. She doesn’t want to pump herself up. She really truly wants her teammates to score. Trust me, she’d rather have 10 assists than 10 goals. I’m not going to allow that to happen. I’m forcing her to shoot because she has one of the better shots in the league, especially from deep. We’re forcing her to take on this recognition of being a star athlete because she is, she truly is.”
The PW senior – who is her soccer team’s leading scorer – is not the most gifted athlete to have gone through the ranks, she’s not the fastest or the best, but rarely has a student-athlete been valued more.
“She’s amazing,” PW lacrosse coach Ellen Reilly said. “In all my years of coaching, when you look at what kind of student-athlete you want, she is the ideal model because she works so hard, she does everything she can to be the best player she can be, along with leading her teammates and showing them what it takes to be a good player.
“She encourages them. She shows what it takes in terms of her own actions. Then too, she gets along with everyone. She’s smart enough to know what makes a team a good team. Not too many kids get that. She participates (in sports) all year long but makes sure she commits herself to what she needs to do.”
It’s pretty much the same story in basketball.
“She is everything you want in a player and someone who’s really grown and matured and progressed through her four years of high school and is really coming into her own now that it’s her senior year,” PW basketball coach Dan Dougherty said. “She’s a prime example of someone I would love to see become a coach because she would be a prime role model for young girls to show you that you can be tough and still have fun because boy is she tough, and she’s a wonderful, wonderful kid.”
It's a theme that’s echoed again and again when the name of Fiona Gooneratne comes up in conversation.
“She’s a kid you want to coach,” said DeLucia, who is also an assistant for the basketball team. “Being able to coach her for eight seasons – it will be eight seasons this winter – is why I keep doing it because from August to March is a long eight months and you’re trying to teach and you’re trying to coach.
“You have kids like Fiona, you have kids like Kaitlyn Flanagan (Gooneratne’s co-captain and close friend), you want to show up every day, and you have to bring your best as a coach because she’s doesn’t take anything off. She doesn’t take a drill off, she doesn’t take a class off, she’s doesn’t take a game off. I don’t know how she does it.”
If competing in three varsity sports were Gooneratne’s only activity, her schedule would be full, but she manages to find time to be a class officer – she is treasurer of the Class of 2022 – and she is also a top-flight student.
Her schedule last week – Homecoming Week at PW – was a daunting one.
“Homecoming Week is a massive thing at Plymouth Whitemarsh,” DeLucia said. “There were five events, and she’s running all these events. She went from a soccer game to Wing Bowl on Monday night, a game to Color Wars on Wednesday, Thursday practice then powder puff football, Friday soccer game then Homecoming Game halftime show, then she ran the homecoming dance Saturday.
“She somehow did five homecoming events, three games and two practices in addition to AP Calculus BC and AP Computer Science. The teachers don’t know how she’s doing it all, but she doesn’t miss anything ever. She doesn’t drop the ball ever.”
Ask Gooneratne about her packed schedule, and she is unfazed.
“I keep my schedule pretty loaded, but I like having a lot of activities to do, especially when it’s activities I do with friends,” she said. “With sports, I have a lot of friends I made through teams, so I really enjoy seeing them.”
Gooneratne, according to her coaches, gets it right, and although she would never choose to be used as an example for others to follow, she is just that.
“She’s super uncomfortable with praise, she doesn’t like to be recognized,” DeLucia said. “Being that she’s what I think a student-athlete should be at PW, I often use her as an example in front of the team, and she’s very uncomfortable with that.”
The senior captain assumes a different role in each of her three sports, and in soccer this fall, she is not only the go-to player, but she also was relied on to keep a young team together during a difficult start. Gooneratne – a four-year starter - made it sound simple.
“I could see the potential we have, and I really wanted everyone to know we had the potential, so I tried to reinforce the fact that we’ve just got to keep practicing, keep working hard and things will start to click,” she said. “Our first few games weren’t our best performances, but there were a lot of moments where you could see the potential we had.
“I knew, I knew, the amount of potential we had, and I knew it was only a matter of time until we found that, so I just tried to do everything I could, encouraging teammates to watch film, really making sure I was demonstrating the dedication they should also be displaying. We were connecting passes, communicating and doing really well, so I tried to emphasize those points. I’m really proud of the progress we’ve made as a team because you can see how we are becoming more of a family and not just a team.”
And how exactly does a high school senior develop such a rational approach?
“I don’t know,” Gooneratne said. “I really want to make sure that everyone sees the value they have to a team because everyone brings a unique perspective, especially on our team with all the different talents and our positions.
“I want to make sure everyone knows how much they contribute to the team and how we all see each other and how we all respect each other as part of the team.”
DeLucia admits that what he’s saying might sound like nothing more than ‘coach speak’ but insists it’s not.
“We lose five (straight) games to start the season, we lose a ton of kids to injury and illness, etc. – the level of effort truly didn’t drop, and you’re talking about a team of mostly freshmen and sophomores, and that can lead to immaturity,” said the PW coach, who lost Gooneratne’s fellow captain, Kaitlyn Flanagan, to an injury. “Having Fiona to be that true senior leader, our practices have been outstanding every single day.
“Literally, we haven’t had a bad practice yet, and thankfully, some results are starting to come, but the credit to these kids keeping their focus and keeping their heads on straight through tough losses – it really comes down to Fiona and her attitude.”
In basketball, Gooneratne was a reserve for a Colonial squad that is one of the district’s best.
“I was really there to just keep that high school sport experience going, keep making bonds with teammates,” she said. “As I grew into my role, which is obviously a lot different, I found that I’m not going to be the one out on the court doing amazing all the time, so I found that in practice was really where I could contribute the most.
“If we’re preparing for a big game, the second team is the scout team and learns the other team’s plays, and I kind of took it and ran with that. I really tried to make sure I was doing my best as a member of the scout team to make our starting team the best we could be at least in every way I could. I know I don’t have the skills they all have, but I just try to use what I could to help the team.”
A remarkable perspective indeed from a high school senior who has so much on her plate that no one could have blamed her if she had opted to walk away from basketball, but that was never a consideration.
“The friends I’ve made on the team – I would not have ever wanted to miss out on that because it’s been a really special experience, and I’m really looking forward to my final year,” Gooneratne said.
Dougherty understands the value of players like Gooneratne.
“We make it a point to stress to the kids that don’t get to play a lot that we wouldn’t be successful without them,” he said. “One of the reasons we are so successful is we have the depth to be able to practice at a high level, and she is a prime example of that.
“She just has such a leadership to her. She has the respect of her teammates and classmates. Even though she’s not the Division 1 recruit or anything like that, she has a commanding presence. She just has the respect because of how hard she works to get to where she is.
“She isn’t six feet tall, she isn’t lightning fast. She’s gotten where she is athletically because of her hard work and because of her intelligence. On the scout team, she could correct TJ or me. Trying to draw up one of Upper Dublin’s out of bounds plays, I’m like, ‘What was that again,’ and she’ll know it. It’s not just that she takes it serious, but boy, is she smart.”
Gooneratne’s role will change considerably this year as she is projected to be the first player off the bench.
“She’ll make a name for herself this year,” Dougherty said. “She has elite ability to defend and is a very good outside shooter. It’s one of those things – we’ve been a deep team for so many years that playing time hasn’t been there, but it will certainly be there this year.
“She’s a physical soccer player, she’s a physical basketball player. She’s not afraid to mix it up – not in a dirty way. She would be a good role model to show kids you can play sports and be tough and also be good in school. It’s a fun way to live.”
In the spring, Gooneratne will take to the lacrosse field. A varsity player since she was a freshman, she plays attack in lacrosse.
“I’d say there again I’m just trying to see our potential, and I do see it a lot,” she said. “We did amazing this past year. Again, just a different role from other sports but a role I really enjoy.”
“Whatever sport is in season, she commits herself to and then moves on to the next,” Reilley said. “She’ll do whatever she needs to do in between if she can.
“She’s an amazing kid, she’s just a nice, genuine person, and she gives you everything she has, and she shows all the other kids what it takes. You don’t have to be a stellar athlete, but she does all the intangibles that not many kids could do.”
Gooneratne has been competing in three sports for as long as she can remember although a fourth – golf – is her family’s sport of choice. Both her older brother (Dylan) and younger sister (Rhianna) made a name for themselves on the links at Plymouth Whitemarsh.
“The sport we do as a family the most was golf,” she said. “We would go out to par 3 courses on vacation or Mermaid Lake, which was near us, and we would all play.
“If there was ever just an open field, my dad would bring our clubs and just practice and play around. On the weekend, we would come to Victory Fields with my dad and practice all the sports – soccer, field hockey and all that stuff.”
Instead of choosing golf when it came time to choose a fall sport, Gooneratne opted for soccer.
“Soccer has always been my favorite sport,” she said. “I’ve always loved playing it, loved watching it – the national teams, we would watch the Premier League games on the weekends.
“I love the team aspect of it and also staying active and really pushing myself, especially as I went into high school, staying in shape over the summer. Soccer really held me accountable for that. I didn’t do ODP but local organizations – Colonial Soccer Club, rec which turned into intramurals and then into travel.”
Gooneratne, who is in the top 10 percent of her class, is planning to follow her older brother to Penn State University next fall. She is a member of the National Honor Society and is enrolled in AP Computer Science and AP Calculus BC, which is open only to the top 20 students in the school.
She plans to major in actuarial science or computer science.
“Actuarial science is the field my dad went into, so I’m interested in that,” Gooneratne said. “I see how his work schedule is and all the work he puts in doing that.”
Ask Gooneratne what competing in sports has added to her high school experience, and her answer is hardly a surprise.
“I’d say it’s really coming back to the friendships,” she said. “The biggest part where you can see it is just bus rides to away games, playing music, everyone talking, just having an amazing time. Those are moments I would never want to ever miss out on because they’re so key to my high school experience.”
And make no mistake about it – Gooneratne, according to Dougherty, knows how to have fun.
“She has this dry sense of humor that I so enjoy, and I know her teammates enjoy it too,” the Colonials’ coach said. “She just has this super dry sense of humor that’s so, so funny.”
And all her coaches agree - Gooneratne is the very definition of a student-athlete.
“She’s why I coach – to be able to coach a young lady like that who’s going to be something,” Reilly said. “She’ll make an impact.”
“You can’t have a successful sports team without kids like her,” Dougherty said. “The world is her oyster. Whatever she decides to do in life, she will be highly, highly successful at it. She’s just a great kid from a great family.”
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