Senior captains help Pine-Richland field hockey adjust to pressure of favorite status

Sunday, October 10, 2021 | 11:01 AM

When describing how Pine-Richland field hockey was able to grind out a 1-0 win over Peters Township earlier this year, midfielder Fiona Kortyna said her team has the ability to keep going no matter what.

That’s true in the micro sense of one match, but it’s also apt for the macro.

The two-time defending champion Rams have kept on rolling. Through 10 matches they’ve allowed only three goals and carried an unblemished record into a Saturday match with Norwin.

“I’m very proud of how we’ve played,” Kortyna said. “I think there was a lot of pressure on us as the favorites in the WPIAL. People are expecting a lot out of us, but with the team we have we can take that pressure, handle it and get the results that we want.”

Kortyna is a captain along with goalie Sadie Baratka and 100-plus goal scorer Rylie Wollerton.

Wollerton is a Louisville commit.

All three bring a different aspect to the team, but they share a common affection for the sport.

“Sadie, Riley and I love each other, and we love the team,” Fortyna said. “Every team needs someone there to support everyone. I may not be the highest scorer or have the biggest skill, but I want everyone to know that I’m there for them if they need something no matter what.”

Wollerton has been a dominant offensive player since arriving at Pine-Richland in 2020 after moving to the district from Virginia. She said she’s still working to become better at picking corners, which should put fear in opposing goalies and defenses that have to figure out how to stop her.

Baratka is happy she is a Ram, not only because she gets to watch her play night in and night out but gets to compete with her in practice. It has sharpened her goaltending skills.

“She takes extra shots on me in practice, and it’s so much fun,” Baratka said. “She’s a D1-level player, so it’s cool to be able to stop her shots. It’s harder to read her shots, because of the intricacies in her game. After a while you get used to how she plays, but then she’ll change it up on you.”

Wollerton feels similarly about going against Baratka in practice.

“I love it, because it is a very competitive environment,” Wollerton said. “We’re both going 100%. She’ll block three in a row, and then she turns around and I hit one in, so it’s a fun game we have going on.”

Kortyna relishes the opportunity to be a supportive teammate and downplayed her on-field contributions. Wollerton said Kortyna is being modest. Not only is Kortyna a linchpin for communication but a key part of what makes the Rams successful on the field.

“She’s a good leader that brings a lot of personality,” Wollerton said. “I feel like sometimes as a leader I can be a little matter of fact, and she puts it into more personal words that makes people feel good. All three of us captains work well together.”

Pine-Richland has rolled through most of its opponents this year, sometimes winning by double-digits, but has had three tight matches. The Rams won 1-0 over Peters Township, 2-1 against Shady Side Academy and 3-1 against North Allegheny.

Those three tests have been beneficial for the Rams, who don’t mind the pressure of an intense contest.

“We’re very supportive of each other, and we don’t let adversity affect us,” Baratka said. “If something goes south for a moment we can brush it off. We’re used to winning, and losing really isn’t an option because we know what we are capable of as a team.”

That calmness also comes from Rams coach Donna Stephenson. All three captains said they appreciate the demeanor of their coach, and it’s something that permeates the team. They’ll lean on that as the regular season winds down, and they embark on a three-peat.

“Instead of telling us to be humble she shows us with her actions,” Wollerton said. “She has very high expectations for us, but she puts on us what she thinks we can handle. That helps us meet all of those expectations.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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