By MIKE MILLER
Kiersten Sydnor glided through the regular season as Mercersburg Academy's top goal scorer and playmaker.
By the end of the year, she had become the gold standard among area field hockey players.
There was simply no one better than Sydnor, the Public Opinion Field Hockey Player of the Year, who racked up 24 goals and nine assists in her senior season for the Blue Storm.
But 2011 wasn't just about goal scoring for Sydnor.
She was a leader (one of three team captains for Mercersburg) and a calming influence on a team that posted the most remarkable turnaround of any in the area.
"We were definitely looking for more leadership from her this year," Mercersburg coach Alicia Hawk said. "We knew she had the skill, but we were looking for her to lead and communicate, which is what she did. She put it all together this year -- the skill, the confidence and the positive attitude."
Sydnor finished her four-year Mercersburg run with 56 goals, and her 24 this season were the most for a Blue Storm player since Mary Lancaster scored 27 in 2007.
Among her many big games this season, Sydnor scored seven goals in a drubbing of St. James on Sept. 22. In that game, the Shippensburg native notched four of her goals in the second half of Mercersburg's 8-2 win.
But the game that sticks with Sydnor was a 4-3 overtime win over the Hill School on Oct. 15. Hill has traditionally stood as one of Mercersburg's toughest
This year's game -- like most things for Mercersburg in 2011 -- was different.
The teams took a 2-2 tie into halftime and traded goals in the second half to force the extra period. In overtime, the Blue Storm's Brittany Burg raced up the right side of the field and passed to Sydnor, who was waiting in the circle, and she scored the winning goal with less than two minutes remaining.
"We had never come close to them before," Sydnor said. "I thought that was an amazing feeling. That's something I'll always remember."
Her 15 goals and 10 assists in 2010 solidified her status as a serious Division I prospect entering this season. She made visits to Georgetown and Cornell before deciding on Bucknell, where she hopes to continue her torrid play as an attacking forward.
Hawk, who was a big-time player at Holy Cross in the 1990s and was inducted to the school's hall of fame, anticipates Sydnor will become an impact player at the NCAA's top level thanks to her range of individual skills.
"Obviously, as a freshman, she'll have to start again with the team play concepts," Hawk said. "But I think as far as her skill and athleticism, those are the reasons why she was being recruited. She has all the ability. I think she'll be able to fall in pretty quickly."
Chambersburg coach Jen Amsley said, "I've known her for a long time. She's matured so much in the last year. She has excellent skills and she's always a threat in the circle. I made sure this year and last year that we marked her and she still scored on us. She's just that effective. She'll do well in college."
As a playmaker, Sydnor blossomed in 2011. Although she tallied one fewer assist as she did a year ago (10), Sydnor believes she developed her vision on a level that allows her to anticipate a play before it happens. It's a quality she knows she will need in college.
"I usually strive to have more assists than goals, but that's not always able to happen," Sydnor said. "I think this year I would try to make a lot of passes, but the coaches would also tell me to take it myself because the pass isn't always going to be there. I really enjoy making passes to teammates. I want them to have just as much attention."
It's that selfless quality that Sydnor extends to the entire Mercersburg program. The Blue Storm's 12-4-1 record was the best in school history and a big turnaround from an 8-8 season in 2010. It was a season of personal and collective triumph for Sydnor, who wishes the best of luck to her coach and a Mercersburg program on the upswing.
"I thought we were very successful as a team this year," she said. "I know a few girls on my club team are interested in coming to play there. People are watching us now. I really think field hockey will be a big sport at Mercersburg in the future."
Mike Miller can be reached at 262-4788 and email@example.com, or on Twitter @BowieMike. Player of the Year
Name: Kiersten Sydnor
School: Mercersburg Academy
Parents: Diana and Skip Sydnor
Statistics: She scored 24 goals and added 9 assists.
Honors: Named the Blue Storm's Most Valuable Player and a Mid-Atlantic Prep League all-star. She also served as one of 3 Mercersburg team captains.
Club team: PA Mavericks
College: Will play at Bucknell University next year.