Mt. Lebanon field hockey speeds into playoffs after reaching elusive regular-season goal

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019 | 6:08 PM


The directional arrow for the Mt. Lebanon field hockey team pointed skyward this season.

A top-four finish in Division I is the goal the team has been poised to reach for its program.

The Blue Devils finally broke down that barrier thanks to a 15-2-1 regular-season record and 8-1 section mark.

The top four seeds for the WPIAL AAA playoffs are Pine-Richland, Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township and North Allegheny.

In first-round action Wednesday night at Pine-Richland, Mt. Lebanon squares off with Peters Township at 6 p.m. and the host Rams take on North Allegheny at 7:30. The winners will meet Monday in the championship game at Fox Chapel.

“Over the past few seasons, we’ve been very close to making it into the top four in order to make it to playoffs,” coach Julie Buschman said. “In fact, last year we were simply one goal short of that with an end-of-season 1-0 loss to Norwin.

“From the beginning, I’ve felt confident this team would be capable of doing so, which has been our goal, to break into that top four. We’ve worked hard to take (it) one game at a time, knowing that making it to the postseason and competing for a WPIAL championship is the direction we wanted to go.”

Regular-season success

Mt. Lebanon owns wins over Peters Township and North Allegheny this season, as well as victories over Division I foes Fox Chapel, Allderdice, Hempfield, Upper St. Clair, Norwin and Penn-Trafford. Both Blue Devils losses were to Pine-Richland, by scores of 1-0 and 2-1.

“Both were competitive games,” Buschman said.

On the season, Mt. Lebanon, which posted a 10-5-3 record a year ago, has outscored the opposition by a lopsided 81-12 margin with 11 shutouts.

Mt. Lebanon’s top point-producers are senior midfielders Pfeifer Hill and Emilia Krakora and senior forward Georgia Eson. Hill and Krakora are team captains. Both were named to the All-WPIAL squad in Division I in 2018.

Other starters/key reserves include junior Delfina Szigethy and seniors Annika Orhman and Maddie Reisinger at forward; junior Hope Husak, senior Cara Lynch and sophomore Lauren Ghil at midfield; seniors Caroline Zappone and Katie Karstens and junior Ally Schuler on defense; and senior Katie Pituch in goal.

“This is a hard-working group of girls who have focused all season on attacking and defending as a team,” Buschman said. “They work to make connections up the field, and we are growing in our ability to defend as a unit. We have focused on team effort, both offensively and defensively, and are really proud of our team effort.”

“I am excited to break into the top four and have the opportunity to continue to compete in the postseason.”

Coaching philosophy

Buschman is in her fifth year as Mt. Lebanon’s field boss. She coached the JV team in 2014. Next spring, she will be in her 11th year as coach of the Mt. Lebo girls lacrosse team.

Prior to her tenure at Mt. Lebanon, she coached lacrosse for one season at her alma mater, Annandale (Va.), where she competed in field hockey and lacrosse for four years.

After high school, Buschman continued her lacrosse career at James Madison.

“My goal as a coach is to create a positive environment in which the girls can learn, grow and compete as players and as people,” Buschman said

Hill climbing

They combined for impressive totals of 54 goals and 26 assists this season.

The top three point-producers on the WPIAL playoff-bound Mt. Lebanon field hockey team consist of Hill, a midfielder who led the squad with 22 goals and 11 assists, Eson, a forward with 21 goals and seven assists, and Krakora, a midfielder with 11 goals and eight assists. All three are seniors.

Hill and Krakora are co-captains. Both plan to continue their athletic careers in college, Hill at Rochester for field hockey and Krakora at Bowdoin for lacrosse. Both also are cerebral competitors. Krakora has a 4.8 GPA, and Hill’s is 4.7.

“I think this year we came out hungry to build off what we accomplished last year,” Hill said. “We had a lot of returning players who are passionate about the sport and want to see the team be a major competitor in the conference. I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished.

“The number of all-around athletes we have is amazing. When my teammates step on the field, I know I can trust them to give 100%. Our goal coming into the season was to make the semis, but now we’re eager to earn a spot in the WPIAL finals. I think we’re especially driven to continue our momentum.”

Hill has competed in field hockey since the sixth grade. She also is a distance runner in the Mt. Lebanon girls track program.

“(Field hockey) has been such a substantial part of my life that I can’t imagine where I’d be without it,” she said. “Of course, I love learning the tactical skills and getting a beautiful shot off, but the team aspect is what sticks with me the most. The connections I’ve made with my teammates make playing our games even more exciting.”

Turning a page

Krakora kicked off her field hockey career in the eighth grade. She has positive vibes about the Blue Devils’ playoff chances.

“I’m really proud of how we have developed and worked together this season,” she said. “We’re excited to be in the playoffs, and hopeful that Mt. Lebanon will be turning a page in terms of heading to the playoffs in the future.

“Our strengths are our hustle and speed, as well as our connections and defensive transitions. We expect to hustle to every ball, play as a unit and play to the whistle.”

Krakora, who plays the piano, is a volunteer at Animal Friends, and is involved in her church youth group, Greek dance and swing dance.

“I started playing field hockey because it requires stick skills and running, like lacrosse,” she said.

Competitive fire

Eson, meanwhile, said this year’s team has been highly motivated to advance to the playoffs. Eson is committed to the University of New England to continue for field hockey, which she began playing just a few years ago.

“Our team has made some great improvements from last season,” she said. “I think our loss against Norwin last year and not making the playoffs really made us grow a lot from then to now. We have become a really smart team. We’ve always been a fast team, but now I think we are a smart team, too.

“We’ve really connected the pieces on how to play as a unit, and use the field to our advantage. With the returning players from last season, we already had a good chemistry with each other. But that motivation from last season’s loss has really made us click to have a greater chemistry and work ethic. We’ve grown and matured a lot since last season.

“We are a fast team. We have always had that trait. But this year’s team really knows how to pass and not just rely on speed.”

Eson owns a 3.9 GPA, is a Furiends Club member and also competes in lacrosse. During the winter months, she competes in indoor field hockey for the Pittsburgh Venom.

“What draws me to field hockey is the shear competitiveness and team mentality,” she said. “Being able to have teammates always having your back is what really got me to like this sport.

“For someone like me who enjoys being competitive, I really love the competition we see in this division.”

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