Drive for 5 underway for Pine-Richland field hockey

Sunday, September 3, 2023 | 11:01 AM

The drive for five is on for Pine-Richland field hockey.

After four consecutive WPIAL titles, the Rams return five seniors and a fairly experienced group of underclassmen as they look to continue their championship run.

“They want to repeat, but I don’t think they feel a heavy burden to carry the torch,” Rams coach Donna Stephenson said. “It’s kind of built into the culture that they’re excited to go after it and put their mark on it to make it their own and make their own special season.”

Part of that culture is player-led.

Stephenson credited her five seniors — Jessica Albertson, Tyler Kopp, Sara Neuhart, Khushi Saini and Mikayla Saversky — with helping the team become closer in the offseason.

“They put in a lot of time over the summer reaching out to the girls and connecting with them,” Stephenson said. “They had get-togethers, showed up to the summer workouts, our summer league and team camp. This is a really good group of seniors. They are all nice girls and well-liked. They are doing an awesome job with team chemistry. That’s always been a big deal for us and what makes our team so strong.”

Albertson, Saini and Neuhart are team captains.

Saini is back healthy after missing all last season due to a knee injury. Kopp is working her way back from an injury.

Albertson was the team’s leading scorer last year. She’s joined on the forward line by juniors Kendyll Jerry, Maddy Myers and Maggie Campbell, sophomore Anna Merlack and freshman Alyssa Baculik.

The midfield has several juniors that are returning starters in Ella Perry, Madeline Mill and Georgia Rottinghaus as well as Saversky and Saini. Sophomore Bridget Gilardi and freshman Claire Mill are also midfielders.

Erin Murray, a junior, is one of the few returning defenders with varsity experience. Kopp will join Murray on the back line once healthy. Juniors Anna Karmanos and Kylie Schneck, sophomores Emma Wallace and Kaylee Bang and freshman Naomi Stewart are also defenders.

Neuhart returns in goal. A pair of sophomores Kaelin Koehler and Maddy Merlack will be the backup keepers.

The Rams won their first two games, defeating Hawken School (Ohio), 3-0, and Shady Side Academy, 6-0. They are continuing to progress prior to their upcoming section games.

“We’re just trying to get everyone to jell in their positions and work as a team instead of 11 individuals doing their own thing,” Stephenson said. “At this time of the year, that’s always what we’re trying to achieve. We’re getting people adjusted to new positions, reinforcing some of the tactical elements of defensive play and supporting each other.

“On the attacking side, we’re focusing on getting the passing patterns to work, finding space and creating space for teammates. What’s positive with the team is that there’s a lot of energy. They’re having a lot of fun together.”

Pine-Richland is one of seven teams in Class 3A this season. Allderdice, Hempfield, Mt. Lebanon, North Allegheny, Norwin and Peters Township are the others.

The Rams beat North Allegheny in the WPIAL final last year. They are unbeaten against WPIAL opponents over the last four years.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


More Field Hockey

Aquinas field hockey rebuilding on the run
Pine-Richland senior recovers from injury, rekindles passion for field hockey
Penn-Trafford field hockey off to strong start as team eyes 8th straight WPIAL title
Shady Side Academy, Fox Chapel field hockey standouts pick up all-star honors
PIAA postpones soccer, field hockey semifinals to Wednesday