Field Hockey Notebook: Week 7

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Anyone walking by Central Bucks South’s team bus after Monday night’s game at North Penn undoubtedly heard a roar of applause shortly after coach Christina Ford entered the bus.
The Titans’ first-year coach had just delivered the stunning news that Souderton – deadlocked with South for the Continental Conference’s top spot heading into Monday’s action – had settled for a 1-1 tie in its game against winless Pennridge.
Suddenly, the Titans were in control of their own destiny.
Win their final game on Wednesday, and they would successfully defend their conference crown and own sole possession of first place in the conference standings.
Hoping to throw a roadblock in the Titans’ way was a Central Bucks East team that has graduated from the role of spoiler to contender. The Patriots had reeled off five straight wins since falling to William Tennent (2-1) on Oct. 8.
Their list of victims included North Penn (1-0), Hatboro (1-0) and Souderton (2-1) – three of the four teams that had been above them in the conference standings, but South, which defeated East 2-0 earlier this season, would not be denied, eking out a 1-0 win in Wednesday’s regular season finale to capture sole possession of the conference crown. (For complete game story, visit the Field Hockey home page.)
Pennsbury and Council Rock North will happily share the National Conference crown. Both teams closed out the season with identical 11-2-1 records. Rock North won 11 straight to close out their season after an 0-2-1 start. They clinched a share of the title by edging Council Rock South 1-0 on Wednesday. (For complete game story, visit the Field Hockey home page.)
In American Conference action, Wissahickon simply played out the string in what was not a particularly challenging league season for the Trojans. They will face Pennsbury on Wednesday in a battle of SOL conference champions.
Falcon Fever – Pennsbury reeled off three impressive wins this week to clinch a share of its first title since 1992, downing Truman (4-0), Council Rock South (2-0) and Neshaminy (3-0).
 “This is huge,” Falcon coach Brooke Bergmann said. “Because we’ve been competitive for so long, it’s always been just out of reach. This is just a special group, the seniors especially, so it’s a huge step for us.”
The Falcons opened their SOL season with seven straight wins before falling to Rock North (2-1) and settling for a 2-2 tie to Bensalem. Last Friday, they fell to Tennent 1-0 in overtime and appeared to be in trouble, but they regrouped to finish strong.
“I think it was just mental toughness,” Bergmann said. “This group this year is so committed to finally winning this league, and we knew we had control of our destiny the whole time.
“They just stayed strong and played together. We were able to get through a couple of tough situations, and these last few games have been really strong.”
Bergmann credited several of her veterans for pulling the team together.
“Jennalise Taylor doesn’t show up in our stats, but she’s such a presence at center midfield,” the Falcons’ coach said.
Jenna Allen plays forward and has also seen action in the midfield.
“She is just tenacious, persistent, and her skills have gotten so much better over the past two years we have had her on the varsity,” Bergmann said. “She really controlled the game (against Neshaminy) with her ball handling.”
Mia Reed has been one of the Falcons’ top offensive weapons. Reed had two goals and an assist in Wednesday’s big win over Neshaminy while Allen had a goal and two assists.
“Our scoring has been pretty balanced, but Mia has been coming up with some huge goals,” Bergmann said, going on to laud goalie Caty Ritchie, who had three shutouts this week. “We had a Division I goalie leave us two years ago, and Caty came in and, not having a second of varsity experience, had a great year last year and has gotten so much better, which is a lot of the reason our defense is so confident back there.”
Bergmann took over the helm this season for Tracey Arndt, who – after giving birth to a son earlier this summer - is serving as an assistant.
The first-year coach had no problem sharing the title with a red-hot Rock North squad.
“They are a really good team, and we knew they were the first time we played them,” Bergmann said. “Things kind of fell into place for them, and they’re going to make quite a run when it comes to playoff time.”
Turning point – Ask anyone on Council Rock North’s squad to pick out the turning point in their season, and they all point to the same thing – the Indians’ huge 2-1 win over Hatboro-Horsham on Sept. 29.
“In the beginning of the year, we had a lot of new players on the team, and there wasn’t enough chemistry yet,” Rock North defensive back Kara Magley said. “Once we beat Hatboro-Horsham, it all went uphill from there.”
Magley marked the dangerous Lauren Purvis in the win over the Hatters, and the Indians’ defense had come of age.
“We just dominated that game,” senior defensive back Sarah Rowland said. “We started working together, we started doing inside-outside passing and talking. Our defense really improved after that point.
“We just stepped it up.”
While the players had to adjust to each other, there was also the adjustment of adding a new coaching style with the addition of former Council Rock South head coach Pat Toner to the staff as an assistant. The legendary coach had built a perennial powerhouse during her years at the helm at Council Rock.
“She has been amazing,” Whalin said of Toner. “I cannot thank her enough. She has helped take the team to the next level – just her presence and her knowledge.”
National Conference
Redskins regroup – Sara Camilli knew she was facing the ultimate challenge when she was named Neshaminy’s head coach on Sept. 4 after long-time coach Lisa Pennington stepped down to accept an administrative position in the district.
 “I really have to give credit to the girls,” Camilli said of the transition. “They never once didn’t want to work hard, and I appreciate that. It was a smooth transition.”
Not only was the former Redskin assistant thrown into her new position after the season was already underway, she had the daunting task of rebuilding a defending district championship squad that had lost eight starters to graduation.
“It was a lot to handle, and we just knew we had such a challenge in front of us,” Camilli said. “Of course, you want to be optimistic, and we were very optimistic at the beginning of the season, but then reality set in.
“They just think every Neshaminy teams wins – it’s not normal to not win. They were so used to winning that it really wasn’t ever an option to not win, but we told them, ‘You’re going to have to work for wins this year.’”
The Redskins were anchored by veterans Kristine Dougherty, Annie Abdo and Alexa Bell. Senior Brittany Brown also was a captain along with the three returning starters.
 “I have to compliment the team,” Camilli said. “They have worked hard from the get-go, especially from when I was named head coach. When Lisa left, there was all that transition, and on top of all that, there was the negative criticism that they got – ‘Oh, you guys are going to be so bad this year.’
“I have to say that every day at practice they have shown up and worked hard and had great attitudes. It’s a special team. Any other team that lost all those players and had this challenge in front of them this year could have easily split apart or not had the unity we have, but really, they have stuck together the whole season, and they keep working hard.”
Camilli hoped that a mid-season stretch that included a tie against Council Rock North (2-2), wins over Tennent (2-1) and Bensalem (2-0) and only a loss to Pennsbury (2-1) might be the beginning of a turnaround.
“We never really progressed from there,” Camilli said. “We were doing things right – we were scoring, and we were beating teams, but we couldn’t get over the hump. We lost to three of those teams the next time around.
“It was one of those things we were so inconsistent. It was a challenge that was really, really difficult, and no matter how optimistic you are, sometimes the reality is the truth, and the reality was that we were just too inconsistent. We always thought we would get over the hump at some point because they were working so hard, and we had so many close games, but we never were able to put it all together.”
One of the season’s most pleasant surprises was the emergence of freshman sweeper Annie Kopera.
“She has played every minute of every game,” Camilli said. “She’s a freshman, and you would never know it. She’s a leader, she works hard, and she’s skilled.
“She was unbelievable back there.”
Other underclassmen who offer promise for the future are sophomore defensive back Lindsay Blum, junior midfielder Megan Kelly, junior forward Emily Hegner as well as junior defensive back Carleigh Kitchenman, who was sidelined five weeks with a broken finger.
Freshman Brittany Sheenan was a contributor off the bench, and Camilli has both a freshman and sophomore goalie who will vie for the starting position next year.
“It’s not like we weren’t competitive this year,” Camilli said. “We stayed with everyone we played.”
Continental Conference
Rams save the best for last – Pennridge didn’t make many waves during a tough 2009 campaign, but the Rams, who closed out their league season with a 0-12-2 mark, rocked the SOL hockey world on Monday when they forced then Continental Conference leader Souderton to settle for a 1-1 tie.
The Indians drew 37 corners but managed just one goal, and the Rams’ defense able to hold the Indians at bay. A key was the dazzling 23-save effort of Amanda Perricone.
“My goalie is amazing,” coach Jen Wolfe said. “This is a young girl that was so timid that when we went to Bloomsburg Camp this summer, I actually put my younger goalie up with the older girls, and I put her down.
“This young lady never held any grudge. She had a good attitude. She kept coming out and working hard. I put her in goal, and every game – even the games we were losing and it looked like we lost big – she still majorly saved us in every single game. I’ve just been amazed by her. I don’t know how it will end up, but to my assistant coach and me, she’s our most valuable player.”
Sophomore Sarah Yerk, who saw varsity time as a freshman, scored the Rams’ only goal at the 16:44 mark of the first half.
“She’s an amazing player,” Wolfe said. “I was happy for her.”
The two teams went into halftime knotted 1-1.
“I was scared for the second half because (Souderton coach) Mary Ann Harris will adjust,” Wolfe said. “We kept it steady, and that’s how we hung in there.
“Yes, Souderton is stronger than us. They play together, and that’s what I’m lacking – that chemistry that I have tried so hard to create. Sometimes it’s just not there.”
Wolfe also lauded the performance of Kacie McCreesh in the tie.
“She was coming out of nowhere,” Wolfe said. “I took her off the line for a while and put her at midfield to support what I had up top.”
In the second half, Wolfe asked McCreesh to play corner defense.
“She had never played on corners before because she’s a forward,” the Rams’ coach said. “I wasn’t getting this aggressiveness, I’m-not-afraid-of-the-ball thing, and we knew she was up for it.
“She came up big, so I was real pleased with that.”
Another player who stepped up in overtime was center midfielder Jenna Anderson.
“She came up with some huge stops,” Wolfe said.
According to Wolfe, most of the Rams’ problems this season have been with the mental aspect of the game.
“I have never been faced with a team like this,” she said. “I have usually been able to do something – I kind of pride myself in getting them together socially and mentally. I felt like I’d lost my touch.”
Desperate to try anything that might change the tide, Wolfe decided to try something different at practice prior to last week’s game against Quakertown.
“I told the girls, ‘Throw your field hockey sticks in a pile,’” Wolfe said. “They all looked at me.”
The Rams’ coach then brought out some flag football belts and distributed them to her players.
“I said, ‘We’re playing flag football tonight,’” said Wolfe, whose announcement was once again met with shocked stares. “They hadn’t practiced in a day, and it was going to be a while before they practiced with hockey sticks, but I said, ‘This is what we’re doing. You guys have to be aggressive, you have to step up to the plate, and you have to start communicating with each other.’
“They had a fantastic practice. I took piñatas out, and they beat the piñatas, and they just had a good night.”
The Rams went out the following day and battled Quakertown to a 0-0 tie.
With two days of steady rain prior to the Rams’ game against Souderton, Wolfe took her team indoors for practice. This time they played hide-and-seek in the school.
“Not much field hockey at all, and again, it was something that helped them,” Wolfe said. “I really feel like a big problem with this team was social, and the activities we did to prepare for Quakertown and Souderton were completely social.
“They had what it took inside of them, but it was individual, and it wasn’t ever brought together. Do I think Souderton is a better team than us? Absolutely, but my girls hung in there.”
It was the undisputed highlight of the season for the Rams and cost the Indians a share of the title.
American Conference
Golden Bears rebuild – Karen Grossi’s Upper Moreland squad gave new meaning to the word rebuild this season after losing all of its starters from last year’s squad to graduation.
“It is a young team,” Grossi said. “Only one of the girls (Tricia Connolly) had any varsity experience, and it took us a while to really click and learn how to play together.
“They are doing that now, which is nice. They’ve pulled together, and they’re starting to communicate. Even when we’re playing tough teams and might not be getting the wins, we are playing better than we were in the beginning, so we’re hopeful for next year.”
There are five seniors on this year’s squad, all of whom start, and Connolly has been key.
“She was the only one on the team that scored at the beginning of the year – she had our first three or four goals,” Grossi said. “She led the team in that way, but she’s also a utility player that I can put anywhere, and she’ll step up and make the people around her play better.”
Senior Lisa Carey anchored the Golden Bears’ defense at center back.
“She was very strong on defense, and we relied on her hits,” Grossi said. “She’s the one that gets our defense talking.”
Junior Ali Roberts started on the forward line but also has seen action at midfield and in the defensive backfield.
“She’s played everywhere depending on the team we’re playing, so we put her where we need the strength,” Grossi said.
Sophomore forward Katie Costello missed the first half of the season with a fractured back but returned to the lineup to close out the season.
“I was afraid to play her when she came back, but she stepped up and played as though she’d been playing all season,” Grossi said.
Another player who has emerged this season is junior Deanna Schwartz, who plays left mid.
“During her past two years of high school play, Deanna has been a talented athlete, but she struggled to find her place on the field,” Grossi said. “She had lots of potential, but it didn’t always show.
“This year things have really clicked for Deanna. She can play anywhere asked of her. She has good stickwork and is a very consistent player. We can count on her strong defense and her ability to bring the ball up field.”
The Golden Bears boast plenty of youth, beginning in goal where the defense has been anchored by freshman Sage Wenik.
“We have some young girls who have varsity experience, and the girls we have are committed,” Grossi said.
The Bears , who are 5-8 in league play, won three of their last six games to close out the regular season.
“It’s tough sometimes, but we really try and just emphasize being a team and having fun out there,” Grossi said. “We have psyche dinners every Sunday night. We try to play getting-to-know-you games, we have secret buddies, and basically in everything we do we emphasize the team and having fun, not just doing it for yourself but being there to help each other.”
At the end of each game, Grossi names a Player of the Game, another activity that engages her players, who enjoy guessing the name of the recipient.
At the end of September, most of the team participated in the Parkway 5K Run/Walk to raise money for CHOP and pediatric cancer. They joined Team Smiles 4 Dayna, a team that has been organized in memory of an Upper Moreland sophomore who lost her battle to cancer last year.
Around the league – Central Bucks South’s 2-1 overtime win over North Penn on Monday was another Continental Conference thriller.
“This is extremely big,” junior Maddy Harding said. “We wanted to come back from last season and be just as good. We worked really hard all season. We had our ups and downs, but we’re really looking strong now. Everyone is working together and playing great.”
The junior midfielder, whose OT goal downed the Maidens earlier in the season, once again did most of the damage offensively. The junior midfielder scored on a powerful reverse stick goal in regulation and then – after Elizabeth Fedele knotted the score - won it in overtime when she fired a no-doubt-about-it penalty stroke into the upper left corner of the cage.
 “Oh my god, people have dreams about this,” Harding said. “In their sleep, they picture getting that goal. It’s really exciting. Night games are the best.”
Souderton used goals from Olivia Shoemaker and Alex Atiyeh to escape with a 2-1 win over Quakertown, a win that secured a share of second place in the Continental Conference standings with Hatboro. The Hatters, sparked by the hat trick from Lauren Purvis, downed Pennridge 3-0. As a result of East’s loss to South, the Patriots fell to fourth place, trailing South, Souderton and Hatboro.
Upper Dublin received a pair of goals from high-scoring Emily Hitchings as well as single goals from Sarah Boyd and Marisa Ferguson to down Upper Merion 4-0 on Wednesday and clinch a share of second place in the American Conference. Springfield kept pace with a 4-0 win over Plymouth Whitemarsh. The Spartans received single goals from Elise DiFilippo, Anna Studenmund, Tierney Carabba and Kierstan McLennan.
William Tennent downed Neshaminy 3-1 on Friday, using a pair of goals from Tonya Gower and a single goal from Alison Pio. Rock North’s win over Rock South on Wednesday gave the Panthers sole possession of third place while the Golden Hawks fell to fourth.
Cheltenham’s 2-1 win over Plymouth Whitemarsh was the highlight of the season for a young Panther squad. Gabby Szczepanek and Meredith Brown scored for the Panthers, who survived a pair of PW penalty corners with no time remaining on the game clock. Goalie Tori Penecale turned away six shots in goal for the Panthers.
SOS.com’s Fab Five
  1. Wissahickon (16-0) (What’s not to like about a team that has outscored its SOL opponents 79-4 and allowed goals in just two league games?)
  2. Council Rock North (13-4-1) (The Indians – winners of 11 straight – are the hottest team in town heading into the post season.)
  3. Central Bucks South (13-3-1) (Take away a pair of losses to Souderton, and the defending conference champions were just about perfect.)
  4. Pennsbury (12-4) (The Falcons rebounded from a difficult stretch to finish strong, winning four of their last five games.)
  5. Souderton (13-3-3) (The Indians have struggled since their big win over CB South but still finished tied for second in a tough Continental Conference.) Hatboro-Horsham (11-4-2) (The Hatters hit some rough spots late in the season but still represent a team no one will want to face early in the post-season.)
Under consideration: Central Bucks East (9-8) (The Patriots were 6-1 in their second go-round in the Continental Conference and found themselves playing for the title on the last day of the regular season.) North Penn (12-4-2) (No one will question that the Maidens boast talent, and they are especially tough at home.) William Tennent (13-5) (The Panthers finished third in the tough National Conference and showed they belong with the league’s powers.) Council Rock South (11-5) (The Golden Hawks were in the race until the end and extended the Indians to the limit before falling in their regular season finale.) Springfield (12-3)  (The Spartans, the only American Conference team to score on Wissahickon, have won 10 of their last 11 games.)