Aquinas Academy field hockey gains ground with wins over rival, trip to WPIAL finals

Saturday, November 5, 2022 | 11:01 AM

The Aquinas Academy field hockey team last year became the school’s first team to reach the WPIAL finals in any sport.

The Crusaders lost to Shady Side Academy, 1-0, in that unprecedented Class A final, but this season they gained a measure of revenge.

Actually, it was revenge times three.

The Crusaders completed their season sweep of nemesis Shady Side Academy with a 2-1 WPIAL semifinal victory over the four-time defending champions Oct. 27, returning to the title game and achieving a goal set over the summer.

“We were ecstatic about it,” all-star senior midfielder Bella Hite said. “We played one of our best games, if not our best game, of the season. We were just overjoyed to be back in the finals again.

“Since starting in August, we’ve not put our foot off the gas the whole time. We’ve been working really hard for this.”

Sophomore forward Zoe Solomond and Hite scored for the No. 2-seeded Crusaders (6-6-1), and senior all-star goalie Mary BouSamra held No. 3 Shady Side Academy, a 17-time WPIAL field hockey champion, to a lone fourth-quarter goal.

“Everyone really, really wanted to get there, and everyone worked really hard this season,” junior defender MacKenzie Queen said. “I think getting second last year was fuel because we all want to win this year.”

The bid for an elusive WPIAL title ended with a 3-1 loss to top-seeded Ellis School on Oct. 29 at Washington & Jefferson in the WPIAL Class A championship game. But the field hockey program at the tiny Catholic school in Hampton continues to move forward.

“They have worked so hard to get back (to the WPIAL finals),” coach Jen DeWitt said after the Crusaders improved to 3-0 this season against Shady Side Academy. “They have been working for this forever, it seems like. They have been hungry for this season since before it even started. I think that really sets them apart.”

Prior to this season, Aquinas Academy had only beaten Shady Side Academy once in coach DeWitt’s 11 years. The Crusaders were 0-11-1 against Shady Side from 2016-21, including four losses last season.

But they edged Shady Side Academy, 3-2, on Sept. 15, setting the stage for another run to the WPIAL finals. Hite, a Belmont Abbey (N.C.) recruit, entered the title game with a team-high 14 goals, and senior forward Naomi Solomond had 12.

Aquinas Academy entered this season with a bit of uncertainty, having graduated six starters and fielding a roster of only 13 players. But the quartet of seniors — BouSamra, Hite, Naomi Solomond and midfielder Emma McGinley — provided leadership and the underclassmen improved on the run.

“We were a little bit worried,” said Hite, one of 13 senior girls at the school. “But we are always pretty short on players. … I think we were really motivated this year just because we lost a lot of seniors and we just weren’t sure how our season was going to go. So us four seniors were really hoping to end on a good year. We put a lot of work in to try to be a great team.”

The Crusaders will return seven starters — junior forward AnneMarie Austin and the Queen twins, MacKenzie and Alexa; sophomore defender Anne Dolan and Zoe Solomond, and two freshmen, midfielder Elliot Keverline and defender Francesca Hite. DeWitt will also draw players from a growing middle school program, which has 25 girls, including eight rising ninth-graders.

“It will definitely be a rebuilding year, but we have a lot of prospects coming up the pipeline,” said DeWitt, who doubles as the middle school athletic director at the K-12 school. “We’re really starting them out younger and challenging them more, so that when they get to the varsity level they are ready.”


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