Latrobe field hockey encouraged by strong playoff showing

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Tuesday, November 2, 2021 | 10:38 AM


A pair of inmates, a princess, a frat boy and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich were key components in the final Latrobe field hockey practice of 2021.

Wait, what?

The Wildcats treated the team’s last gathering as a makeshift Halloween party, dressing up in a wide variety of costumes and using the scheduled — albeit somewhat unnecessary — practice time to enjoy each other’s company before officially calling an end to the year.

“I kind of like to throw a little fun and joviality into all of the work,” said coach Jeff Giordan, who was teased by his players for being the “dad on Christmas morning” as he filmed them with a video camera.

“It was a fun way to close things. I was just totally in the moment and just enjoying how much fun it was to watch them play.”

The lighthearted session made for a happy day that followed a heartbreaking yet surprising night.

On Oct. 26, Latrobe — the No. 4 seed in the WPIAL Class 2A field hockey playoffs — lost its semifinal matchup to top-seeded Penn-Trafford, 1-0.

It was an impressive turnaround from just a week earlier, when the Warriors pounded the Wildcats, 9-0.

“The way things went that night, it was like every bounce was not going our way,” Giordan said of the blowout loss. “It’s one of those mental things you have to work through. And I told the girls, ‘remember how you feel tonight, let’s focus on getting ready for next week.’ ”

They certainly took those words to heart. Even when an early goal found its way into the net for Penn-Trafford in the playoff meeting, and it appeared recent history might be repeating itself, the Wildcats turned up the defense. Latrobe held the Warriors’ top player, Ava Hershberger, scoreless in the match.

“Even despite giving up that first-quarter goal and playing a ton of defense, not giving up that second goal, I told them, ‘that that’s how you’re supposed to bounce back,’ ” Giordan said.

The loss to Penn-Trafford, however, was the third this season for the Wildcats, who finished the year with a 3-9 record. But the way his group came together made Giordan pleased.

“We kind of listened to them and had them coach each other, which is what you want a team to do,” he added.

Throughout each season, Giordan issues a command to the seniors. He wants them to find a player that will take their spot the following year and provide a sound example to them. That, he hopes, will provide continuity within the program.

And he believes he’s found that with some of his players who will return in 2022.

Junior midfielder Josie Straigis scored three goals and assisted four more this season and looks to be the team’s top player going into next year.

“She knows her role, and she runs with it,” Giordan said. “It was nice to see her excel this year.”

Other juniors in Taylor Desko, Hope Cerny and Lauren Sapp will be key returners offensively.

In all, the team hopes to bring back 14 juniors from the 2021 season.

But the Wildcats will lose 11 players to graduation, including key defenders in Geina Shaker and Ashley Onega, as well goalie Valentina Rossi.

Replacing those bodies on the field will be a challenge, but Giordan, coming out of the loss, was more caught up in the disappointment that comes with realizing he never will be able to coach the seniors again.

“I hardly ever get emotional, but those playoff games, and those losses, when everything comes to an end, I get emotional and I break down,” he said. “I told them to just remember the moment, remember how much effort you put in here, and remember the magic that can happen when you work together.”

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