Another field hockey season is upon us in Lebanon County - and beyond, of course - and if it's like most recent campaigns it should be another memorable one. So memorable, in fact, that it seems likely that more than a few honors will be handed out before all is said and done.
With that in mind, we're also going to hand out some preseason awards before we dive into the team-by-team capsule previews.
So let's do it...
They don't play the same position, but it is tough to find a better pair than Palmyra's UConn recruits Cheyenne Sprecher and Jess Dembrowski, who are set to begin the final season of their decorated and distinguished careers with the Cougars.
Sprecher, a goalie, and Dembrowski, a midfielder, have seen it all in their previous three seasons - state titles, district championships, conference crowns, division titles - and they figure to see plenty more before all is said and done. If you're a field hockey afficonado, you should get to a Palmyra game or several this year and enjoy the best the county has to offer.
Best Non-Palmyra Player
We kid, but it's undeniable that each year the lion's share of talent in the county resides with perennial power Palmyra. But not all of it, of course. Cedar Crest, in particular, has produced some impressive talent of its own in recent years, and this year is no exception. So the pick here is Cedar Crest senior midfielder and St. Joe's recruit Emily Peters, who racked up 15 goals and nine assists while helping the Falcons earn a AAA district playoff spot last season. Good player.
The More With Less Award
Annville-Cleona's modest enrollment and the fact that it competes with girls soccer, tennis and cross country for athletes doesn't allow it the deepest talent pool to draw from. But rarely in Sue Felty's decade as head coach has A-C failed to put a competitive team on the field. Though it's not necessarily a year-in year-out playoff contender, it's pretty close to that despite its disadvantages, something that is a tribute to both the players and the hard work of Felty and her staff.
She doesn't have the resume or the accolades of a goalie like Sprecher, but Northern Lebanon's Hannah Whitman deserves a shout-out for the sheer volume of shots she typically faces.
Though Northern Lebanon went only 3-13 last season, it wasn't for lack of effort from its junior goalie, as Whitman came up with an amazing 259 saves last season to give her an even more amazing 493 for her career. Wow.
It's been part of the Palmyra program for years, but quite frankly anybody can benefit from its use. It's a four-letter acronym (relax, it's not a bad word), SCIJ, which stands for Strength, Courage, Intensity and Joy, something the Cougars try to bring to each game and practice, and something we should all attempt to bring to instill in every aspect of life.
Enough time on the soap box, let's check out the team-by-team capsule previews for the six Lebanon County field hockey programs:
Coach: Sue Felty, 10th year
Last year's record: 13-7 overall, 9-4 in Section Three, District Three Class AA playoff qualifier
Key players lost: Meredith Bachman (midfield), Victoria Malloy (forward), Addie Hayes (back), Steph Inman (forward), Lydia Doeing (back),Courtney Conners (forward), Taylor Winters
Top returning players: Katelyn Brightbill (midfield) Jr., Emily Feibig (forward) Sr., Morgan Zimmerman (forward) Sr., Harper Sellers (back) Jr., Michaela Singer (forward/midfield) Sr., Lauren Schrader (midfield) Soph., Haley Zimmerman (goalie) Sr., Cass Connelly (back)
Promising newcomers: Carrington Moyer, Chloe Inman, Addie Plummer, Luuke Westelaken
Outlook: A-C lost a good chunk of last year's team to graduation, but with the move to Class A in the district realignment, Felty is hopeful that a return to the postseason is in the cards.
"We have a lot of holes in our lineup created through graduation, but some talented young players who are working really hard," Felty said. "We are hoping we can get it all to come together and gel by the start of our season. With the new classification system in place and our single A rank, we are striving for a district playoff berth."
Coach: Dana Risser, 7th year
Last year's record: 11-9 overall, 7-7 in Section One, District Three Class AAA playoff qualifier
Key players lost: Maddie Gable (forward), Maddie Barron (midfield), Lexi Eberly (back), Taylor Kauffman (midfield), Karis Colbert (midfield), Megan Kleinfelter (back), Kelsey Bell (goalie)
Top returning players: Emily Peters (midfield) Sr., Cailie Bernard (forward) Sr.,Margaret Zug (back) Sr., Emily Hombach (forward) Sr., Emma Holzman (midfield) Soph., Kathleen Steckbeck (midfield) Jr.
Promising newcomers: Tasia Rutter (forward) Jr., Tyra Craun (midfield) Sr., Hannah Funk (goalie) Sr., Olivia Cascarino (back) Jr.
Outlook: The Falcons were senior-heavy last season while earning a district playoff spot, so there may be some early growing pains. But with talented senior midfielder Peters leading the way, expectations are still pretty high in South Lebanon.
"We have a great group of hardworking players," Risser said. "We lost seven starters from last season, but we have a large group of players who have been working hard on JV for the past few seasons and are ready to step up to the next level at varsity. We have a large squad which helps give us depth in all positions.
"We expect to be competitive in our section and district and are looking forward to seeing improvement out of individuals and the team as a whole as the season moves forward."
Coach: Lisa Kercher, 6th year
Last year's record: 5-11-2 overall, 5-7 in Section Two
Key players lost: Sara Bentz (back), Jill Gattens (back)
Top returning players: Katie Fields (forward) Jr., Hannah Williams (midfield) Sr., Alyssa Keath (forward) Sr., Emily Witmer (forward) Sr., Abbie Keath (forward) Soph.. Kendra Bicksler (goalie) Jr., Vivian Lattanze (midfield) Jr., Sierra Swingholm (back/midfield) Sr.
Promising newcomers: Kylie Stine, Avah St. Onge, Hayley Smith, Julia Angstadt, Cherish Weaver, Alicia Yoh
Outlook: With a strong nucleus returning and what Kercher believes is some favorable re-classification in the district and realignment in L-L Section 3, optimism is running higher than it has in Myerstown in some time.
"I expect this season to be better than any in recent years," Kercher said. "The Raiders haven't been to districts since 2008 and this looks like it might be our year. Our team is full of returners and passionate players who have worked really hard in the off season to make huge improvements. With the re-alignment of the classifications in District 3 and the re-organization of Section 3 in the LL League, our schedule and our opportunities look great. Last season we had two ties and several loses by just one goal that we plan on converting to wins this season. Six of our games are against AA or AAA schools - and wins there further improve our chances of getting into District playoffs. The Elco Raiders are looking forward to a great season."
Coach: Terri Johnston, 5th year
Last year's record: 1-16-1 overall, 0-12 in Section Two
Key players lost: Ashley Kropf, Haylie Reich
Top returning players: Megan Deck (mid/def) Sr., Emily Fake (goalie) Sr., Paola Morales (forward) Sr., Kianna Cotto (forward) Sr., Jessica Reeves (defense) Sr., Tariah Rozier (defender) Sr., Courtney Ahnert (defense) Jr., Taileen Zechman (forward) Soph., Mikayla Bowman (forward/midfield) Soph., Kayla Rohner (defense) Soph., Emily Krow (forward) Soph.
Promising newcomers: Yahaira Estrada (forward) Sr., Lucia Miranda (defense) Jr., Maddie Gates (goalie/defense) Fr., Haley Boyer (forward) Fr., Chelsea Hoyer (forward) Fr., Barbie Pyles (forward) Fr.
Outlook: The Cedars face another uphill challenge, coming off a one-win 2015 season, but a move down to Section Three this fall has Johnston optimistic that her team will be a bit more competitive than in years past.
"This year’s edition of Cedar Hockey has 7 seniors, 2 juniors, 4 sophomores and 4 freshmen," Johnston said. "I am excited about this group of girls in everything from team chemistry to skill development. As always, I feel we will begin our season putting players in positions, and many of our returners may find they have a new home on the field. We will be playing in Section 3 this year, and I believe we can be competitive as long as we stay healthy. With only 17 players, the positive is that they will all get valuable playing time. Our middle school program is growing which is encouraging as we look to the future. We have already established a family-like atmosphere which we hope will bring out the strengths of our players, and although we are not setting any goals in terms of wins/losses, we believe we be more successful than in the past."
Coach: Ronda Sowers, 1st year
Last year's record: 3-13 overall, 2-10 in Section Two
Key players lost: Kaley Donmoyer (midfield), Carey Hetrick (forward)
Top returning players: Heather Wolfe (forward) Sr., Hannah Whitman (goalie) Jr., Kim Weaner (midfield) Jr., Emma Kelliher (midfield) Soph., Sydney Mengel (midfield) Soph., Carrie Shuey (midfield) Soph., Addison Wallace (back) Soph., Grace Miller (back/midfield) Soph., McKenna Zohn (back) Soph.,
Promising newcomers: Lindsay McFeaters (midfield) Fr.
Outlook: Longtime assistant Sowers takes over a young roster that includes a total of 27 players, and is hoping that an increase in quality comes along with that improvement in quantity.
"We are underclassmen (heavy) as we currently have only one senior and two juniors in the starting line up," she said. I"t’s pretty early, maybe too early to tell, but the expectation is to get better everyday; improve upon our skills, team dynamics, and our section and overall records."
Coach: Kristi Costello, 8th year
Last year's record: 25-3, Mid-Penn Conference and District 3 AAA champion, PIAA AAA state runner-up
Key players lost: Erin Huffman (forward), Kiley Gallagher (midfield), Carli Herman (back)
Top returning players: Jess Dembrowski (midfield) Sr., Cheyenne Sprecher (goalie) Sr., Katelyn Mark (back) Sr., Kylie Bomgardner (back) Sr., Hannah Marx (midfield) Sr., Lexy Smith (forward) Jr., Kristen Robinson (back/midfield) Jr., Nicole Shank (midfield) Soph.,
Promising newcomers: Lauren Wadas (forward) Fr.
Outlook: The Cougars said goodbye to the No. 2 and 3 scorers in program history in Gallagher and Huffman, and elite defender Herman also graduated. Those losses will be felt, but as usual the cupboard is far from bare at Palmyra, with UConn recruits Sprecher and Dembrowski leading a still talented lineup that has a nice mix of youth and experience. So once again, Palmyra figures to be a title contender in league, district and state play. Maxfieldhockey.com agrees, ranking the Cougars third in its preseason national poll.
"The team is lead by our seniors, but will rely heavily on the continued development of our younger players," Costello said. "This year's team is unique in that a lot of players can play different positions and roles so we will look to get creative and hope to have many different looks. Our goals are to win championships - starting with our division, which has proven to be one of the best divisions in the state."