Pine-Richland field hockey comfortable as favorites to take 3rd straight WPIAL crown

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Sunday, September 12, 2021 | 10:01 AM


Donna Stephenson started the Pine-Richland field hockey program in 2004, literally from scratch.

She posted a signup sheet in the athletic office and didn’t have a home field secured or any nets to practice with, but she did have a vision of building a program that would one day become one of the best in the WPIAL.

The Rams have certainly reached that standard.

Pine-Richland will be aiming for a three-peat this fall after successfully winning its second consecutive WPIAL Class 3A championship last fall, its third in four years.

Four seniors that started graduated, but plenty of talent returns, including Louisville commit and standout goal scorer Rylie Wollerton, making the Rams heavy favorites in the WPIAL once again.

“We look good,” Stephenson said. “We have depth. We graduated a couple key players: Ella Rottinghaus and Elaina Camino. Those two were really dominant figures on the field for us, as well as Natalie Loftus and Jordan Landreneau, but we have girls that are ready to fill those roles.

“We are very cognizant every year about the importance of having depth for the current year as well as to bridge the future years. It’s an exciting group.”

Pine-Richland opened the season with a 6-0 win over Hempfield.

Wollerton, a senior, set a Rams single-season record with 29 goals last year. She’s joined in the midfield by senior Grace Merlack and junior Mary Wymard. Seniors Fiona Kortyna, Riley Kirby and junior Emma Westerhoff make up the forward line. Seniors Laura Krill and Clare O’Connor and juniors Danielle Deer and Edie Lapinski are on the defensive line.

O’Connor was on the junior varsity team last year, but Stephenson gave her credit for working to improve her game.

“We started her in our first two scrimmages and she did well,” Stephenson said. “She’s a great example of someone who puts in the time in the offseason and just loves the sport. She’s dedicated to her teammates, and I think she’s going to have a great season for us.”

Sadie Baratka, a senior, returns as the goalie.

“Sadie is huge for us,” Stephenson said. “She’s got a lot of experience and is really strong in the cage. She’s very athletic. Sometimes teams will put someone who isn’t performing in the field as the keeper, but not our goalies. We have girls that want to be goalies. Sadie has dedicated to that position. She’s played it since middle school and with club teams.”

Allderdice, Hempfield, Mt. Lebanon, North Allegheny, Norwin and Peters Township are the other teams in Class 3A with Pine-Richland. The Rams have faced Peters Township in the WPIAL championship each of the last three years.

The Rams are open about discussing their success and future aspirations. It’s understood that they are the team to beat, but that fuels them to be their best.

“My assistant coach and I always meet with the seniors at the beginning of the summer and speak with them about what their goals are,” Stephenson said. “They were a part of the other championship teams, and they are driving at continuing that streak. I don’t think it’s pressure. It’s more hunger. They want to be the ones that make it three in a row. They are looking to go undefeated, win districts and perform better at states.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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