The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 11, 2012

Scott Dudinskie's field hockey column: Wildcats join Seals as the gold standard


Daily Item

---- — Granted, I've done this for only a short while and I'm still learning the game, but I can't imagine a time will come in which last year's Selinsgrove team and the current Greenwood squad won't rank among the best I've covered in the Valley.

Understand right off that I'm not trying to paint either team as tops in their respective program's history.

I realize both have had a great deal of success, and in the very recent past. My clock, though, started in 2011 so that's what I have to go by.

No 2007 Mifflinburg state championship team. No 2009 Selinsgrove state runner-up.

So the sample size is not even two seasons, but I'm convinced 2011 Selinsgrove and 2012 Greenwood will be my gold standard of measure.

They had/have unrivaled talent, some names you'll be able to recall years from now, and still others anchored to the tip of your tongue. They're coached by legends with nearly 900 wins between them. They played/play with single-minded focus, never distracted from chasing their typically lofty season goals.

"Everyone comes to practice and wants to improve; we're not just here to play field hockey like it's no big deal," Greenwood senior forward Brittany Fleisher said Tuesday. "We want to accomplish things, to win championships -- and that's everyone on the team, not just a few people."

Fans were robbed of a game for the ages last year when the two teams played a spirited half in a driving rainstorm. Lightning and the unrelenting rain caused it to be called at halftime with the score tied at 1. I thought the Wildcats played a better half and had the stuff to win. Then again, I wouldn't have bet a dime against the Seals.

"I remember when my sister was in high school we couldn't beat Selinsgrove," Wildcats senior Taylor Tompkins said earlier this season, "and then going there and tying them last year was just like, 'Oh! We almost had it!'"

The Wildcats beat Selinsgrove earlier this season, 2-0, and afterward Seals coach Cathy Keiser called them "one of the best Greenwood teams I've ever seen."

Greenwood coach Kent Houser made me think during a preseason interview when he said, "We want to do the best we can do and not worry about the things we don't have control over, like wins and losses."

No control over wins and losses? I thought. Huh?

But it makes sense because you can play as well as possible and be beaten by a better team. It's on the Wildcats to play as well as possible.

"Mr. Houser said something in practice after our loss to State College (on Saturday)," said Fleisher. "He said that we shouldn't come out and expect to win, but we should play hard and winning will just come.

"Every time we have to play our hearts out and leave everything on the field."

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Line Mountain's Jill Martz-Yisrael was as complimentary as a coach could be after a potential game-tying goal was disallowed with 2 minutes left in Tuesday's 2-1 loss to Greenwood.

She said the game turned on three aspects (defense, long hits and speed) in which the Wildcats are superior. The Eagles more than held their own, playing a relentless, physical style to combat Greenwood's speed. But Greenwood opened up the field enough with defense-to-offense transition to score the go-ahead goal.

"I think what hurt us a bit in the second half was they started to use the big ball more; it became more effective for them," said Martz-Yisrael. "We weren't blocking up the hits as well, they were finding the lanes and getting in behind us and so we had to do more sprinting."

It goes to show the Wildcats will find a way. They can overwhelm teams with their attack, play a defensive style and wait to pounce on a mistake, or (like Tuesday) trade paint until the final whistle.

"I didn't think we panicked (Tuesday). There's times -- even in nothing-nothing games -- where we start getting a little antsy and out of sorts. We didn't do that," said Houser. "I think experience is huge, (and) we have it at most positions, particularly up front and in the goal."

The Wildcats exude quiet confidence, even more than last season when they rode 19 wins to the district title game and state quarterfinals. They come to the sideline when subbed out discussing how to rectify problems rather than complaining about them.

"I believe there is a lot of confidence," said Wildcats all-state keeper Katie Osborne. "I was really surprised last year with how we did, but it just set the bar to where our expectations are now.

"Everyone just seemed to pick it up and are doing well in their roles. I'm just happy it's going this well."

I won't predict Greenwood will do any better than a season ago, and I don't believe there's a state championship in their future.

More likely than not, a team will come along with more skill or speed or good fortune and send them home.

They'll be left to ponder -- like last year's Seals -- what it's like when a great team runs into a better one.

Hopefully, they'll remember and appreciate how rarely it happened.

n Scott Dudinskie covers high school field hockey for The Daily Item. Email comments to sdudinskie@dailyitem.com.