By Darryl Grumling
HERSHEY — For any high school team, playing for a state championship game is a significant accomplishment.
To have two different major sports squads reach the PIAA finals at the highest classification in less than a year? Well that is pretty heady stuff.
That's exactly what Spring-Ford has pulled off in an eventful eight-month span.
Back in March, the Rams' girls basketball team won the first team state title in school history by defeating Cumberland Valley in the PIAA-AAAA final.
And Saturday afternoon at Hersheypark Stadium, the Spring-Ford soccer team squared off with Neshaminy for the PIAA-AAA championship.
Though the Rams ultimately came up short in a heartbreaking 2-1 overtime loss, they showed plenty of reasons why their athletic program has graduated to elite status — not just in District 1 circles but the entire state of Pennsylvania.
Perhaps not coincidentally, three members of last year's girls basketball varsity roster are on the soccer squad — midfielder Sammy Stipa, defender Kaitlyn Dougherty and reserve Amy Roth. Lauren Hart and Brynn Hellberg were also JV girls basketball players.
"It was so much fun in both sports,' said Dougherty, a senior and one of the Rams' three captains. "I love every single teammate I have. We just made the most of every opportunity we had. We worked so hard as a team and worked together. I'm proud of every single one of the girls on the team. It's just amazing we got here.
"I think it shows how much we want things and work together for things. Our school is together in everything we do, all the time.'
Stipa, a first-team all-state guard in basketball who is headed to Lafayette, was a stalwart on both squads. Her dramatic goal off an Aley Kate McKinley corner with 2:05 left in regulation drew the Rams even at 1-1 and forced overtime before the Redskins' Amy Mandia brought an abrupt end to the proceedings 3:52 into the first overtime period.
"It's been a great ride, and it's been a team effort,' Stipa said. "Just to be able to get here is a great accomplishment for our team and I'm proud of all of them.'
As was Spring-Ford athletic director and incoming girls basketball coach Mickey McDaniel, who was on the bench (as an assistant to his predecessor, Jeff Rinehimer) for the Rams' march to the girls basketball state title.
McDaniel cited traits such as commitment, character and multi-sport conditioning (both mentally and physically) as key ingredients to the Rams' rise to state prominence in both sports.
"I think the level of commitment in female sports today has risen everywhere,' he said. "That's a tribute to the girls themselves and their parents, who've got them involved, taken them to camps, whatever. The girls have developed the skills you need to play at a level like this.
"And when you look across the board at our girls sports, we have a lot of multi-sport athletes. When you're playing multiple sports, I think it helps your physical development and it also puts you in pressure situations. That carries over into the other sports they play.'
Julianna Radzinski (soccer/lacrosse), Kat Connelly (soccer/lacrosse) and Haley Preschutti (soccer/track) are just a few examples of that multi-sport angle.
"And the kids are really going after it more,' McDaniel added. "They're working harder and doing more things in the offseason.'
That trend has also been evident in the Spring-Ford boys sports programs — with the football team reaching the District 1-AAAA final last year and making the district quarters this year and the baseball team having reached state finals in 2008 and 2011.
"Whether it be male or female sports, there's a lot of pride that exudes at Spring-Ford,' McDaniel said of the current state of affairs. "Being on the court for that (state final) basketball game, I can relate to what the girls and what the coaching staff are going through, and this is pretty exciting.'
For a number of different programs, thanks to the rapid ascension of Spring-Ford girls soccer.
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.