---- — Kent Houser has obviously been around the block a time or two in the high school coaching business.
He's a veteran of 50 seasons coaching hockey, boys basketball and softball at Greenwood since 1990.
So he's no doubt seen it all. Twice.
Last year Houser and his Wildcats, the Valley's best hockey team, endured a pair of the most gut-wrenching losses a side could endure. They were the kinds that would create nightmares for even the most seasoned of coaches.
If they kept him up nights, Houser isn't saying.
"We don't even talk about last year -- it's gone," he said during the preseason. "We're looking forward. Always."
We understand that philosophy, and we certainly respect it. But there's no way those losses were forgotten in the program.
They left a mark.
Greenwood bulldozed its way to a 15-2-1 regular-season record, playing eventual Class AAA state champion Lower Dauphin to a scoreless tie along the way. The Wildcats won the first three games of districts with relative ease, earning a berth opposite Oley Valley in the championship game.
The game was scoreless when it went to strokes, and Oley ultimately won 2-1.
Greenwood rebounded with a win over Tri-Valley League rival Line Mountain in the first round of the state tournament, capping a three-game season sweep. The 'Cats blitzed Forbes Road in the quarterfinals, 6-1, to move go the semis.
There, on a crisp night in Berwick, they battled back from a Crestwood goal two minutes in and forged a 2-1 lead. The Comets scored to force overtime and won in the second extra period.
Four days later, Crestwood won the state crown.
"I thought both were very good games," said Houser. "Crestwood, in particular, was just a great field hockey game. We had chances and played our hearts out but just didn't come through.
"It was one of those where someone had to win and someone had to lose."
In less than two weeks, Greenwood saw an elusive district title and a chance to play for the state championship ripped from its grasp.
"I think we came out of that feeling that we didn't really get beat by anybody but that we were capable of beating anyone," Houser said. "We were as good as those teams, but we didn't win. Sometimes when you have a good run and then you get to the end and get beat, it's a matter of you didn't play well or didn't come out as well as you could have in a game. This wasn't either case.
"We were as good as anybody -- and played like it -- but just not good enough to win that day."
A pair of multi-time all-state players moved on in midfielder Taylor Tompkins (Providence) and keeper Katie Osborne (Wake Forest), as did goals leader Britt Fleisher, among others. Yet there are plenty of starters who returned bearing the scars of last season.
The only residual impact of the 2012 season would be beneficial, Houser says.
"It did a little bit for our confidence, what we can do. It set a benchmark for what we want to try to achieve," he explained. "But this is a whole new year, and we still have to come out to work hard and prepare."
Houser is given to saying "names change but expectations stay the same," and also that he doesn't worry about things he can't control, such as wins and losses.
The latter always makes me think of how so many coaches worry about little else than wins and losses.
It's easy to understand Houser's approach, though, particularly after those losses last season.
Houser will continue to prepare his team as best he can, expect the best effort from his players and himself each game, and let the chips fall where they may.
n Scott Dudinskie covers high school field hockey for The Daily Item. Email comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ScottDudinskie.