3-time defending champion Pine-Richland field hockey team determined to maintain winning culture

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Sunday, September 4, 2022 | 11:01 AM


The Pine-Richland field hockey team is still hungry for more.

The Rams have won three straight WPIAL championships, and if they are going to win a fourth this fall they’ll have to replace seven graduates, including All-American Rylie Wollerton, who is now at Louisville.

Rams coach Donna Stephenson said her team has the right mindset and determination to keep the program moving forward.

The theme for the team this year is “Tradition Never Graduates,” which speaks to the culture within the team.

“We have big shoes to fill with Rylie leaving as well as our other seniors, but we have girls that saw varsity time last year and were part of the playoff roster that are ready to have their chance,” Stephenson said. “I feel like we are picking up right where we left off, and I don’t see any deficit as far as the willingness of kids to step up. We have a really hungry team. They want to play, and they want to score.”

Sadie Baratka, Riley Kirby, Fiona Kortyna, Laura Krill, Grace Merlack and Claire O’Connor also graduated. Kortyna and Wollerton were WPIAL Class 3A all-stars and Baratka and Krill were honorable mentions.

Seniors Mary Wymard, Danielle Deer and Emma Westerhoff and sophomore Georgia Rottinghaus are the returning starters. Wymard was a Class 3A all-star last season.

The four returning starters bring experience to each line on the field.

Wymard and Rottinghaus are midfielders. They will be joined in the midfield by sophomores Ella Perry, Madeline Mill and Mikayla Saversky.

Westerhoff leads the forwards where she’ll play with fellow senior Kayla Karmanos, junior Jessica Alberson, sophomores Kendyll Jerry and Maggie Campbell and freshman Anna Merlack.

The Rams plan to have a balanced attack after leaning on Wollerton for the bulk of the goal production last year. That’s already come to fruition as the Rams had six different goal scorers in a 7-0 nonsection win over Shady Side Academy. They also had a 2-2 tie in their opener at Hawken School (Ohio).

“Last year everyone wanted to get the ball to Rylie and look to her to make a play, which was understandable, because she’s a Division I player, but this year we’re going to have to rely on everyone,” Stephenson said. “Everyone is going to be passing the ball around to each other, so I think we’ll see more people with touches and more goal scorers this year.”

Deer anchors the defense, a spot that was hit hard by graduation. Stephenson said Madie Lennon, a senior, and sophomore Erin Murray have stepped in to shore up the backline.

Junior Tyler Kopp and sophomore Anna Karmanos also will see time on defense.

Sara Neuhart, a junior, takes over in net for her cousin, the recently graduated Sadie Baratka. Stephenson also expects backup goalie Rylee Branscum to contribute and said junior Khushi Saini will miss the season with an injury.

Allderdice, Hempfield, Mt. Lebanon, North Allegheny, Norwin and Peters Township are in Class 3A with Pine-Richland.

The Rams defeated North Allegheny, 3-1, in the WPIAL championship last year and Peters Township in ’19 and ‘20. Pine-Richland has been in the WPIAL title game every year since 2016, made the playoffs each of the last nine seasons and has four WPIAL titles.

The Rams expect some stiff challenges as they try to climb to the top once again.

“The hard thing for us is that everyone wants to beat Pine-Richland, because we’ve been the champion for the last three years,” Stephenson said. “I feel like everyone plays Pine-Richland a little differently, because everyone wants to beat us. We have to be playing our best when we play our section games. You can’t take anyone for granted and put a tally in the win column until you have it.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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