Senior class built winning culture for Pine-Richland field hockey

Sunday, November 21, 2021 | 11:01 AM

A few nights after Pine-Richland field hockey’s season came to an end, Rams coach Donna Stephenson said it felt weird sitting at home because she felt like she should be out at practice with her team.

Stephenson’s feelings went beyond the everyday routine teams get into during a season before it suddenly ends.

It stemmed from the enjoyment she got from being around a positive group of girls day in and day out as they won a third consecutive WPIAL Class 3A title.

“We just had so much fun,” Stephenson said. “It is a great group of girls. I’m proud of the culture they built this season. It was a really good year.”

The culture centered around seven seniors: Claire O’Connor, Laura Krill, Fiona Kortyna, Rylie Wollerton, Grace Merlack, Riley Kirby and Sadie Baratka.

Stephenson met with each one of them June 4 at a coffee shop and they discussed what they wanted to accomplish. She was proud of how they fostered a team-first environment.

“They were tremendous, and I told them at our banquet that they set the standard for future senior classes,” Stephenson said.

“If you walked into the locker room and saw the way the girls got along and supported each other, you couldn’t tell who was a senior or who was a junior, sophomore or freshman. That’s how close-knit these girls were. We owe a lot to this senior class. They all were great leaders on and off the field.”

There were plenty of individual accolades that came out of the season like Wollerton, a Louisville recruit, being named NFHCA national scholastic player of the month for the second consecutive year. She had 56 goals and 14 assists this season.

Kortyna, who will play at Division III St. Mary’s College of Maryland next year, scored 16 goals, and Baratka posted 11 shutouts in net to finish with 19 for her career.

Wollerton, Kortyna, junior Mary Wymard and freshman Georgia Rottinghaus were named to the WPIAL 3A All-Star team, while Baratka and Krill were honorable mentions.

The Rams topped North Allegheny, 3-1, in the WPIAL title game behind a pair of goals from Wollerton and one from Rottinghaus.

After that, Pine-Richland hosted Central York in the first round of the PIAA playoffs and lost 2-0.

It was a much closer result than last year’s 5-0 loss to Central Dauphin, which signaled a move in a positive direction at the state level.

“We got a step closer for sure,” Stephenson. “It was our best performance (in states). We were only one goal down going into the third quarter. We were hoping to get a goal, because that would’ve got one monkey off our back, but we played well. The girls gave everything they had, but Central York was good. We enjoyed playing them because it was competitive. They actually beat Wilson (in the quarterfinals), so they advanced to the semifinals. It’s their first time in states, so it’s a big deal for them.”

The Rams return four starters and will go for a district four-peat next fall. They’ll also look to continue the challenge of trying to get the first state playoff win in program history.

“I feel really good about what we have now and what’s coming up from the middle school,” Stephenson said. “We put a lot of work in and the dividends are paying. We’re going to reinvest those dividends to keep the program strong. We are happy with our success, but we also want to continue to set the bar higher.

“I told the girls we’re going to win states someday. It might not be next year or the year after, but it’s going to happen someday and I’m not afraid to say that. We want our girls to think big. You have to put out big goals to stretch yourself for continued improvement.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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