Field Hockey Notebook: Week 6

It’s been another wild and whacky week of action in the SOL.

Just when it seemed safe to write Souderton off as a contender in the Continental Conference after the Indians were soundly beaten by Hatboro-Horsham and North Penn last week, the Indians rose from the ashes to give coach Mary Ann Harris win number 300 of a stellar career, defeating Central Bucks South 2-0 on Monday night to take over sole possession of first place in the conference.
For now, at least!
The only thing certain in SOL play this year is that absolutely nothing is certain.
Consider only the events of the past week, beginning with the Continental Conference where anything can happen and usually does.
It all began last Monday when Hatboro knocked Souderton from the ranks of the undefeated (5-0) while Central Bucks East defeated North Penn 1-0 and Quakertown stunned Central Bucks South 1-0.
And that was just the beginning.
On Wednesday, North Penn battled Hatboro to a 1-1 tie and then came back to humble Souderton 3-0 two days later, thanks to goals by Amy Coughlin, Kristen French and Elizabeth Fedele. Fedele also had two assists.
 Things got real interesting when Central Bucks South – sparked by a pair of Maddy Harding goals - defeated Hatboro 2-0 on Friday, ensuring there would still be a log jam at the top of the conference standings.
When the dust had settled on the wild week, Souderton and South found themselves tied for the conference’s top spot with Hatboro a half game behind. 
The Titans had a chance to seize control of their own fate in Monday’s Senior Night game against the Indians but couldn’t capitalize on seven first-half corners, and the Indians came back to score a pair in the second half – the first by Olivia Shoemaker on a corner shot and the second by senior Kelsey Bradshaw. The Indians’ defense once again stood tall against a dangerous Titan squad.
Throwing a wrench into Hatboro’s chances to get back in the hunt was a gritty Central Bucks East squad that – despite the Hatters’ 24-1 corner advantage – earned a 1-0 win on Tuesday. Brittany Meyer (Erin O’Brien assist) scored the game’s lone goal with 11:28 remaining in regulation.
Souderton’s remaining games are against Central Bucks East, Pennridge and Quakertown while C.B. South will do battle with C.B. West, North Penn and C.B. East. C.B. East – which suddenly finds itself in the hunt – will face Souderton, C.B. West and C.B. South. Hatboro will take on Pennridge, Quakertown and Central Bucks West in league play, and North Penn will face West, Quakertown, South and Pennridge.
It should be interesting.
An eight-game winning streak has given Council Rock North a piece of the National Conference’s top spot. Last week, the Indians notched huge wins over Pennsbury (2-1) and William Tennent (3-1). Sophomore Carly Everett scored a pair of goals while Elly Plappert added another in the win over the Panthers, whose only goal came on a Chelsea Prichett penalty stroke.
On Monday, the Indians used goals by Carly Everett (Becky Ely assist) and Elly Plappert (Sarah Rowland assist) to down Neshaminy 2-0 while Pennsbury came out on the short end of a 1-0 score to William Tennent.  Allison Pio scored the game winner in the second minute of overtime on a play that was set up by Chelsea Prichett. Both games between the Falcons and Panthers have gone to OT – Pennsbury won the first 2-1.
Not to be forgotten in the whole mix was the 2-2 tie between Pennsbury and Bensalem last Wednesday that allowed the Indians to gain a half game on the Falcons.
A look at the remaining games for the National Conference’s top squads shows that CR North will face Bensalem, Abington and CR South while Pennsbury will take on CR South, Truman and Neshaminy. Tennent’s schedule includes games against Neshaminy, CR South and Truman while CR South faces Pennsbury, Tennent and Rock North. Neshaminy – with games against both Tennent and Bensalem – could play the role of spoiler.
In American Conference play, Wissahickon sewed up at least a share of the title with its 5-0 win over Norristown on Tuesday. Clinching a solo crown will be little more than a formality for the Trojans, who have rarely been tested en route to an 11-0 conference record.
Around the league – There were several classic SOL battles last week that didn’t have title implications but deserve recognition.
In a riveting battle for second place in the American Conference, Springfield downed Upper Dublin 4-3 in overtime last Wednesday. Kierstan McLennan scored the game winner with 2:50 remaining in OT. The Spartans also received goals from Elise DiFilippo, Tierney Carabba and Jill Simmons while Emily Hitchings scored a pair and Kelly Cross added a single goal for the Flying Cardinals.
In an exciting non-league battle on Monday, Norristown extended defending PAC-10 champion Methacton to the limit before falling 3-2. Sammi Kid and Erica Scruggs both scored for the Eagles in a game that saw Shannon Melito, Gabby Berry, Nikole Smith and goalie Maddie Kline (21 saves) come up huge defensively.
Indians on the war path - Council Rock North regrouped from a dismal 2-4 start to roar back and – after Tuesday’s win over Neshaminy – take over a share of first place in the National Conference standings with Pennsbury.
For the sizzling Indians, the win was their ninth in 10 games – a stretch that includes a tie with Neshaminy.
“We saw the potential of the girls, and we knew they would get it,” coach Heather Whalin said. “I think they’re starting to listen and realize there’s a game plan, and if they stick to the game plan, it’s going to work.
“The big problem in the beginning was we had a lot of girls filling positions they weren’t used to playing, and we just had to find a combination that worked.”
A key to the turnaround was moving Elly Plappert from center mid to her natural position at center forward. Rebecca Houser moved from center back to center mid, and sophomore Kara Magley was moved to center back.
“It was shifting everyone around until we found a combination that worked,” Whalin said.
The turning point to the season, according to the Indians’ coach, was the Indians’ 2-1 non-league win over Hatboro on Sept. 29. In that win, Magley was assigned the task of defending Penn State-bound Lauren Purvis.
“She shut her down,” Whalin said. “They scored on a corner, and the difference was we didn’t let down. They just got back to being focused.
“We knew they were one of the best teams in the district, and (the girls) just played so well. They were poised, they were confident. Even when they were down 1-0, you could see they didn’t give up. They don’t let up, and that’s definitely what has helped us throughout the season.”
Another key to the Indians’ turnaround has been their ability to put the ball in the cage.
“We were losing games 1-0, 1-0, 1-0 because we weren’t scoring, and then it just started to click,” Whalin said. “That changed everything.
“Now they’re scoring, they’re seeing each other. They’re not trying to go at it by themselves. They’re doing it as a unit.”
While the Indians could have been doomed by their slow start, they didn’t allow that to happen.
“These seniors have been together for four years, and they have been through some great seasons,” Whalin said. “They knew it would happen.
“They just had to be patient and keep working hard, and the minute it clicked in that Hatboro game – you could just see the momentum, and you could tell the next game they went into they felt the same way. They knew they had to push each other to get it done.”
The Indians’ last loss came at the hands of Williams Tennent (1-0 in OT) on Sept. 21. In that game, they were without starters Rebecca Houser and Jackie Fagan – both of whom were out with the flu.
The Indians avenged that loss with a 3-1 win over Tennent last week. Carly Everett, recently up from the jayvee, scored a pair of goals despite being hit on the head before the game started – an injury that required eight stitches after the game.
“She got wrapped up like a mummy, played the game and left right after the game to get her stitches,” Whalin said.
The Indians’ defense – Magley, Sarah Rowland, Sara Clark, Michelle Delahanty and goalie Amanda Krause – has allowed just six goals in league play. All told, the Indians have outscored their opponents 31-6.
“They have been amazing,” Whalin said. “They have been so solid. I cannot tell you how happy we are with them.”
With three league games remaining, the Indians control their own fate.
Young Patriots on the rise – Central Bucks East, with just five players returning who had varsity experience on its roster, might not have been on many people’s radar when the season began.
That’s changed in a hurry, thanks to a four-game winning streak that has included monster wins over North Penn and Hatboro-Horsham.
“The thing with them is they’re learning, and they’re learning to play together,” coach Marie Meehan said. “The younger girls are still learning how to put their skills in action. They needed to start believing they could do it and build up their own confidence.
“I don’t mind being the quiet team that works hard and surprises people. I kind of like that because it makes us proud. We just keep working as hard as we can.”
After quietly playing the ‘big boys’ tough during the first go-round, the Patriots opened their second trip around the league with a 1-0 win over North Penn last Monday. It was the first of four straight wins for the Patriots , who came up with their biggest win of the season on Tuesday – a 1-0 upset of Hatboro.
A key to the Patriots’ resurgence can undoubtedly be tied to the fact that goalie Christina Maida is back to full strength after coming back from an illness early in the season. In East’s win over the Maidens, Maida had 20 saves as the Patriots fought off 16 Maiden corners. 
Earlier this season, Maida had a season-high 23 saves in a 2-1 loss to Hatboro. In Tuesday’s 1-0 win over the Hatters, Maida had 18 saves.
“She missed all of preseason, and we had to come back from losing her,” Meehan said. “Defensively, her leadership is great.
“She leads the whole defense in the back, communicating with them. She’s just so agile and assertive. She doesn’t sit back – she’s aggressive, and she sees the field well. She plays with no fear.”
Corner defense and the passing game have been points of emphasis for Meehan this season.
“The girls are really starting to understand their connection to one another,” the Patriots’ coach said.
On the injury front, center midfielder Dana Thomas broke her nose on a deflected ball in East’s game against William Tennent. She finished the game but required surgery on Friday and was out of action all of last week.
“Here you have a young team who’s missing their center midfielder – we talked and talked about doing it for each other,” Meehan said.
In the absence of Thomas, junior Jamie Schlotterer moved from right mid to center midfield.
“She’s distributing beautifully and putting solid pressure on the middle of the field as well,” Meehan said. “She’s doing a good job and has also stepped up and filled Dana’s specialty position on our corners, so she’s doing a lot for us and handling it really well.”
Erin O’Brien has been a one-woman wrecking crew offensively with a team-high 12 goals through the end of last week.
“She’s been scoring, scoring, scoring,” Meehan said. “She’s scoring off corners, she’s scoring on breakaways.”
The Patriots’ coach acknowledged the important contributions of her assistants – Erin Scott, a former goalie at Villanova who handles the goalies and defense, and Morgan Hasson, who was a captain of her Arcadia team last spring.
The Patriots, who boast a 7-4 record in league play, are not only on track to reach their goal of earning a district berth but also remain in the hunt for a league crown with games remaining against the two teams ahead of them in the standings.
“They are so coachable,” Meehan said. “You talk to them about where you want their heads to be and their heart to be, and through repetition, they’re just progressing really, really well. I’m excited for what we have to look forward to as well.”
Panther Pride –Carolyn Stuetz was focusing on her career as a field hockey referee when she agreed to take over the helm of Cheltenham’s varsity field hockey team two years ago.
The Panthers – led by senior captains Liz Heimann, Alex Norpel and Tori Penecale – boast a very young squad this season and sometimes have as many as six freshmen on the field at one time.
“They’re athletic,” said Stuetz, who has numerous multi-sport athletes on her roster. “They may not have the strongest stickwork, but they understand positioning and energize the playing field.”
The Panthers are 2-8-1 as the regular season approaches its final week, and Stuetz says she is most proud of the positive attitude, teamwork and the way her players support one another.
“We try to concentrate on improving every day and acknowledge the little things,” she said. “We get very excited over things other teams may just take for granted.
“It would be a very long season if we just looked at the score column.”
Stuetz goes on to recall her team’s early-season game against Wissahickon when her team’s center pass was hit strongly to the wing, who crossed the ball into the circle and the Panthers were awarded a corner.
“Now that was exciting for our girls,” the Panthers’ coach said.
Some of the other ‘little things’ that aren’t so little to the Panthers were the fact that it took a dangerous Trojan squad 15 minutes before it got on the scoreboard against Cheltenham and -although Plymouth Whitemarsh drew 18 corners - the Colonials did not score off a direct corner hit.
“No matter what the score, they always play to the last whistle,” Stuetz said.
Goalie Tori Penecale is regularly tested in the cage. The two-year starter had 255 saves last season and is on track to match that number this season.
“She courageously puts herself on the line,” Stuetz said. “She has an amazing positive attitude and never, ever complains but constantly encourages the players in front of her. She has the ability to go out and give it her best shot and then move on to the next challenge.”
For most of Stuetz’s players, field hockey is not their primary sport.
“We don’t have any super elite hockey players who play all year round like other teams do,” she said. “But what we do have is a situation where every player is good at something specific, and they all bring their contribution to the table for the good of the team.
“It may be one task that they are being depended on to execute, and this really gives them a sense of belonging and being there for each other.”
This year’s squad has four sets of sisters – Sunga and Na Jeong, Sara and Emily Leibowitz, Meredith and Carolyn Brown and Caroline and Gabby Szczepanek.
Senior Liz Brazil is the Panthers’ defensive flier on corners, and she also is given the unenviable task of containing the opposing team’s strongest players.
“She has great speed and stamina,” Stuetz said. “And no matter what the task – she steps up and puts out 100 percent day in and day out. She has a terrific work ethic.”
Liz Heimann is assigned the difficult task of holding the defense together, and junior sweeper Caroline Szczepanek steps up to the challenge of being the last line of defense.
“What I want for this team is I want them to have fun and also learn lessons of life by playing sports,” Stuetz said.
Stuetz, who places an emphasis on good sportsmanship, requires commitment from her players as well as a willingness and desire to make significant improvements in their play.
“We try to concentrate on making one improvement at a time and get excited over the little things in life,” she said. “Our goal is to play purposeful hockey – not just hit and run and pray for the best.
“We try to constantly raise our level of play, one baby step at a time. We want each and every player to feel as though they made a contribution to the overall success of the program. It’s an absolute privilege to coach this team.”
This season, Stuetz has the unique privilege of coaching her daughter, freshman Kelley Anne, who also plays soccer and is a high jumper. She picked up a hockey stick for the first time seven weeks ago.
“I have probably been coaching and reffing for the last 30 years and have to say that this team will always be among my favorite teams to coach,” Stuetz said. “They are nice, respectful and have a terrific sense of humor.
“They motivate me to want to work harder and give them my very best effort as a coach.”
SOS.com’s Fab Five
  1. Wissahickon (13-0) (The Trojans clinched at least a share of the American Conference title with Monday’s win over Norristown. A key non-league battle against Pennsbury awaits the Trojans on Friday.)
  2. Souderton (10-2-2) (The Indians regrouped from a pair of losses to Hatboro and North Penn last week to upend Central Bucks South and regain the Continental Conference’s top spot.)
  3. Central Bucks South (9-3-1) (The Titans appeared to be in the driver’s seat after their big win over Hatboro on Friday but lost their advantage with a loss to Souderton on Monday.)
  4. Council Rock North (10-4-1) (No team is hotter than the Indians, who are 8-0-1 in their last nine games after a 2-4 start.)
  5. North Penn (10-3-2) (The Maidens recuperated from a difficult stretch to tie Hatboro and notch a convincing win over Souderton)
Council Rock South (10-3) (The Golden Hawks remain in the hunt for a National Conference title.) 
Others to watch: Pennsbury (9-4-1) (The Falcons are 1-2-1 in their last four games but have a chance to prove themselves when they host Wissahickon in a tough non-league match on Friday.) William Tennent (11-4) (Tennent’s big OT win over Pennsbury on the Falcons’ home turf kept the Panthers’ title hopes alive.) Springfield (10-3) (The Spartans notched a big win over Upper Dublin in the battle for second place and extended Wissahickon to the limit before falling by a goal.) Hatboro-Horsham (8-4-2) (The Hatters followed their big win over Souderton with a tie to North Penn losses to Central Bucks South and Central Bucks East.)