Title contenders face off as PIHL girls division’s 2nd season begins

Sunday, April 30, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Opening-week action in the PIHL’s second season sponsoring a girls division took place April 18-20.

The defending champion East team split decisions, starting off with a 4-1 loss to Northeast and rebounding with a 3-2 win against West two days later.

Moon’s Lillian Relyea, a sophomore forward, peppered in the West’s first goal of the year and freshman forward Caroleena Genco, also from Moon, assisted on the play.

Four girls from Quaker Valley compete for the West squad once again. They are sophomore forwards Emily Reiner and Elizabeth Bowers and junior forwards Lindsey and Sydney Shurmatz.

“I expect our team to do pretty well this season and we will learn so much together,” said Lindsey Shurmatz. “I am very excited for this season. My only goal is to win. We had a huge chance last season, and I think we can do the same again this year. I wish every PIHL team good luck.”

Avonworth’s Audrey Monro-Neely, a senior forward, cashed in the West’s second goal against the East, as Lindsey Shurmatz and Reiner assisted on the play.

“My thoughts on our first game are pretty positive,” Shurmatz said. “The only thing I would say is that we should have won that game because I feel we were a stronger team as a whole. But their goalie was really good and kept them in the game.”

Ligonier Valley sophomore forward Ashlynn Leblanc netted the East’s first goal of the season off an assist from Penn-Trafford’s Kylie McKenzie, also a sophomore forward.

Reiner tied for the team lead in goals last year, connecting for seven, and finished with 11 regular-season points.

Jenna Collins, a junior forward from Moon, was the West’s starting goalkeeper last season. She was impressive with a 9-0 regular-season record, 1.55 goals-against average and .941 save percentage with two shutouts.

Shaler freshman Alexis Claycomb has inherited the goalkeeping duties this season.

Rounding out the West team in 2023 are Beaver freshmen Danica Waddell (F) and Sydney Wilson (D), Avonworth junior Poppy Acheson (D), West Allegheny juniors Bailey Medved (D) and Hannah Kiss (F), Hopewell sophomore Maggie Egenlauf (D), Neshannock freshman Aurelia Kinchloe (F) and Montour sophomore Antonia Valeri (D).

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League oversees the sport in this region.

The inaugural girls season culminated with the East defeating Central, 2-1, on an overtime goal by McKenzie in the championship game at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.

The East edged the West, 5-4, in three overtimes in the semifinal round, and Central topped Southeast, 2-1.

McKenzie led the East with eight goals with four assists in the 2022 regular season. Latrobe’s Kira Florek (7 goals, 3 assists) also is a returning leading scorer for the East.

The West skated to a 10-0 regular-season record in 2022 and outscored the opposition by a 45-15 margin. Central (7-3) corralled second place, followed by North (5-4-1), East (5-5), Southwest (3-6-1) and Southeast (0-5-5).

The PIHL has added a Northeast team this season, with players from Armstrong, Burrell, Karns City, Hampton, Hollidaysburg, North Catholic, Oil City, State College and Westmont Hilltop.

Along with Quaker Valley and Moon, the West has players from Avonworth, Beaver, Hopewell, Montour, Neshannock, Shaler and West Allegheny.

Joe Cummings has taken over as head coach of the West team, which was coached by Jeff Tindall last year.

There are between 16-19 girls on each team, which includes players from multiple schools in that geographic area. The girls wear shoulder patches of their school’s logo on their team jerseys.

The defending champion East squad consists of players from Baldwin, Franklin Regional, Greensburg Salem, Hempfield, Latrobe, Ligonier Valley, Penn-Trafford, Richland, Steel Valley and Windber.

USA Hockey rules are followed in league play. The girls are not permitted to check, but games do get physical.

Three girls from Baldwin are members of the East team: Evie Wright, a senior defender, Maggie Overn, a sophomore defender, and Rachael McCrea, a junior forward and first-year player in the league.

“I didn’t go into this year with any expectations at all,” Wright said, “but after seeing how we play and our chemistry as a team, I think we could make it really far.”

Wright discussed her team’s Week 1 fortunes.

“I think we were caught off guard in the first game,” she said, “but we were able to figure it out by the time we got to the second game. We just ran out of gas in the first game, honestly.”

Wright also talked about the makeup of the league.

“The way the teams were split up this year were really weird,” she said. “Our home ice is in Delmont, which is about an hour and change away from my house. I find it strange when three other teams play out of Ice Castle, which is Baldwin’s home rink.

“Regardless, I’m really excited about this season. My coaches and all the girls seem awesome.”

Overn plans to take it one game at a time this season.

“My expectation for my team is just to put our best effort into every game,” she said. “I think it’s hard to go straight into playing games after just one practice. We don’t really know each other’s playing style yet. But overall, we did pretty good in Week 1.”

Wright and Overn competed for Central last season.

“I did play on Central last season,” Wright said. “It was absolutely amazing, and I just hope to have as good a season this year as the one I spent with Central. The coaches especially at Central were some of the best I’ve ever met in my entire 14-year hockey career.”

The East squad was scheduled to meet Central for the first time this season April 27 at Ice Castle. East hosts Central in the rematch May 25 at Palmer Imaging Center.

“One of my goals for my East team is to beat Central,” Overn said. “Although a lot of the league’s teams got mixed up, I think it would be fun to beat my old team.”

Southeast was slated to play three consecutive games from April 25-27 against Northeast, Central and North.

Southeast and Southwest skated to a 0-0 tie in their season opener held at Ice Castle.

Bethel Park is well-represented on the Southeast team with five players on the roster: junior forward Lidia Lorenzi, junior defenders Samantha Kern and Nina Romary, freshman defender Cecilia Romary and freshman defender Harley Dale.

Lorenzi, Kern and Nina Romary were members of the Southwest squad a year ago.

The Bethel Park quintet has been joined by Thomas Jefferson’s Jillian Piscitelli, a senior defender, and Alana Briscoe, a junior goaltender. Piscitelli competed for Central in 2022.

“I’m really excited for this season,” Piscitelli said. “I have high expectations for our team. We already have great chemistry because most of the girls have played together in the past. I just hope we have a competitive season while having fun.

“My Central team lost the championship last year and I hope that Southeast can win the championship this year.

“The league added a new team this season, and I am so excited to see the girls hockey community grow. Girls in eighth grade are coming to watch, which I think is awesome.”

Southwest’s Cameran Evans (Bethel Park) won the league’s first regular season scoring title with 19 points in 10 games. She also led the league in goals with 13 before graduating.

Central’s Delaney Howard (Baldwin) finished one point behind with 18. Howard has been playing on the girls lacrosse team at Baldwin this season.

West’s Jenna Collins (Moon) led all goalies with a .941 save percentage and recorded two shutouts. Corrine Brunetto (Latrobe) was second with a .928 save percentage and had an incredible run in the playoffs for East.

She had a 76-save performance in the triple overtime win and made 23 stops in the championship game, finishing with a .955 save percentage.

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