Pine-Richland field hockey turns focus to WPIAL championship 4-peat

Sunday, October 23, 2022 | 11:01 AM

Pine-Richland field hockey coach Donna Stephenson doesn’t have to say much as her team gets ready to try to win a fourth consecutive WPIAL championship.

The message comes within the team from the senior leaders that set the standard.

“As coaches, we do our best to set them up for success, but the culture is up to the seniors using their leadership to get everyone to own and want the goals as much as they do,” Stephenson said. “I don’t see it as a buying in but as an ownership. Everyone has an ownership in team success.

“It’s not like a switch goes off this time of year. It’s been the same since the beginning of the season. We’re just getting close to it. That’s it. Nothing changes in terms of effort or how we approach the game. It’s up to the girls. I want to win, because they want to win and I’m a competitor too, but it’s not my WPIAL championship. It’s theirs. It’s what they’ve set out to do.”

The Rams have the right mindset, and they have talent all over the field.

They were 16-0-1 entering the regular season finale with North Allegheny on Oct. 20 and wrapped up the Section 3A title with a 2-0 win over Peters Township on Oct. 17.

They’ll be the top seed in the WPIAL 3A tournament, which begins with the semifinals Oct. 27.

Pine-Richland had yielded only two goals against WPIAL opponents all season — one against Penn-Trafford and another against North Allegheny. The only tie on their record was a 2-2 final in their season opener at Hawken School in Ohio.

Each part of the field has played a role in their ability to keep opponents off the score sheet.

The defense has been anchored by senior Danielle Deer.

“I think Danielle Deer is the top defender in the WPIAL,” Stephenson said. “It’s unreal how she stops girls. She’s so well-timed and articulate with her block tackles. She’s such a smart player and really tough to get by.”

If the ball finds its way toward the net, junior goalkeeper Sara Neuhart has been ready to make a save. Stephenson said Neuhart does a good job staying locked in and ready for a counterattack during times where Pine-Richland controls long periods of possession.

“Sara has had some phenomenal saves,” Stephenson said. “She had a couple saves on Ava Hershberger from Penn-Trafford, where she tried a crafty aerial on a penalty corner and Sarah played it well, leaping to get it with her blocker. She’s a smart goalie and well-trained. Having her back there is helpful.”

Another strength has been the midfield play. Mary Wymard is a four-year varsity player and three-year starter who has used her experience and field vision to make crisp passes.

Georgia Rottinghaus, a sophomore, is in her second season starting at central defensive midfield. Madeline Mill is the attacking midfielder, and Stephenson compared her to the Energizer Bunny for her relentlessness up and down the field. Eleanor Perry has done well working the right side.

The midfielders have worked in unison to facilitate the forwards Jessica Albertson, the team’s leading scorer, and Emma Westerhoff.

“The four of them have formed a solid diamond in the middle that are the ones making the passing patterns and creating the flow of the game by sending it up to our forwards,” Stephenson said. “They are right behind the forwards, supporting them if they need the back option if they don’t see a forward pass. I think it’s been the biggest change in our team this year. They are all contributing, and we’re not forcing it to one player to do all the work.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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