For years, York-area field hockey has been a step behind Lancaster and other southcentral Pennsylvania areas.
But Dave Marsh and his Ballyhoo Crew are on a mission to change that.
With a roster that includes some of York County’s top high school talent, Marsh and the Crew — an indoor club travel team he started three years ago — are preparing for their second trip to the National Invitational Tournament in three years.
Marsh’s U19 team features Jayla Godfrey (Red Lion), Greta Plappert (Central), Kristi Langhans (Susquehannock), Maggie Noll (Dallastown) and several other YAIAA all-stars. It was one of eight teams in a pool of 32 to qualify and will travel to Richmond, Va., Feb. 25-28, to compete with 140 other teams in front of hundreds of college scouts from all over the country.
After the Crew reached nationals two years ago, several players committed to colleges, and now the Crew has 16 girls in the program who are committed to play at the collegiate level.
“When I started coaching, I knew my ultimate goal was to strengthen the field hockey in York,” said Marsh, who also coaches Northeastern’s varsity team. “If you look at the all-star teams from the last two or three years, it’s mostly girls who have played at Heritage for me at Ballyhoo. Hopefully with the success we have making it to nationals again, we’ll get more girls in the York area to stay here to play club field hockey instead of going to Lancaster to be competitive.”
Take Godfrey. She played for years with Lanco Premier, a Lancaster club team, but made the switch to Ballyhoo this season.
"They have amazing coaches and girls with such high level of play, but I also needed some new type of coaching after so many consecutive years of the same thing," Godfrey said of making the switch. "And it's good to get a variety of new coaches and their ways. I thought Ballyhoo would be the best option because they were the next closest. Not only that, but Marsh has asked me to play with him before. I just knew I would have to get over the rivalries with the other girls, which wasn't hard at all."
Marsh said he's built a successful team by convincing York players to drop their local rivalries and combine their talents to boost York as a whole. In fact, he can use those rivalries as a selling point.
“I tell them, ‘Can you imagine if this girl and you played on the same team?,’” Marsh said. “They practice hard and push each other. They find out they have more similarities than differences, and that they can represent York County as a whole instead of being bitter rivals during high school season. And it’s a blessing in disguise for them because they get to build those relationships with each other.”
The players have bought in, and Noll said they credit Marsh with not only making them better players but also helping them build friendships.
“We can work together very nicely, bringing the skills and plays we learned together to become better as a whole,” Noll said. “We are girls, and there is pettiness between girls no matter what, so it's nice to have these allies versus enemies. It's funny because when we play against each other, we hate each other, but once we are put on the same team, we instantly click just through the sport.”
With that unity, the Crew now has a chance to put York County field hockey on the map and showcase their talent on a national level.
“I think bringing together some of the best hockey players in York County to play together is a step towards being able to compete with the higher-level Lancaster teams,” Langhans said. “It's great to be playing with the other girls instead of playing against them because we have a roster full of strong players, and there is no weak link on the team.”
A national tournament appearance won’t boost the sport locally overnight, Marsh acknowledged, but he hopes the experience will help build confidence in York-area players and gain exposure for the sport to build the talent pool.
"The experience of being able to go and play hockey against all these other elite teams that have the same passion as you do is amazing," Godfrey said. "You can learn so much by watching another team, and I feel as if being down in Virginia, there will definitely be a variety of new game play for us to take in and learn from."