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FIELD HOCKEY PREVIEW: Defenders of the Cage

Cheyenne Sprecher. Carli Herman. Katelyn Mark. Kylie Bomgardner. Kristen Robinson.

You don't always read about them in coverage of the storied Palmyra field hockey program and its many accomplishments, but you probably should.

You don't hear their names all that much because they often toil in relative anonymity for the Cougars, the reigning Class AAA co-state champs.

Such is life when you play defense on a team that doesn't always need it, given that it is blessed with so many talented goal scorers like catalysts Erin Huffman, Jess Dembrowski and Kiley Gallagher.

But those who truly know the sport — like Palmyra coach Kristi Costello — don't have to be reminded of what goalie Sprecher, backs Herman, Mark and Robinson and midfielder Bomgardner bring to the table.

"These five girls are some of the most selfless players you will find," said Costello. "They are not in the spotlight. Some games they don't get a lot of action, yet they accept their role and they step up and perform when they are asked to do so. They would do anything for the team.

"We have some of the most dynamic scorers in the state, but they will all tell you, without this defense, we would not be championship contenders."

Costello isn't the only one to have noticed. Sprecher, a junior force in goal, has already committed to UConn, Herman is headed to Towson next season, and underclassmen Mark, Bomgardner and Robinson all are likely to play at the collegiate level.

Glory? Who needs it?

"You just have to play your role on the team, and know what it is," Herman said, untroubled by not having many opportunities to play the more glamorous scoring role. "And do the best you can where you are."

The five do their jobs so well because they are able to mesh their skills into one. The rangy, skilled Herman is the glue that holds it all together, but the group's collective ability to communicate and execute under pressure explains why the Cougars are rarely under siege defensively.

"I think our defense is really close," Sprecher said. "We really talk a lot while we're playing and that helps us a lot."

"I think we just really work well together and we all trust each other back there," Herman said, echoing Sprecher's thoughts. "There's no one person trying to run the show. We all trust each other and communicate well."

They've more than earned the trust of their more celebrated teammates, too. Evidence comes in the form of Herman's brilliant play in the state title game tie last season, when she disrupted one Penn Manor scoring chance after another.

And in the state semifinal win over perennial power Emmaus, Sprecher stood tall in the face of a flurry of early shots and went on to register a well-earned shutout and send Palmyra to the finals.

Needless to say, Sprecher, Herman and company will gladly accept the dirty work jobs again for another chance to go for the gold this fall.

"I think it motivates us a lot. It makes our goals even higher," Sprecher said. " We have the same enthusiasm we had before. I think we're right back at it again."

For a closer look at what's in store for the Cougars and all the county field hockey programs check out the capsule previews that follow:


Coach: Sue Felty, 9th year

Last year's record: 10-8 overall, 6-6 in Section Three

Key players lost: Victoria ByDeley (goalie), Mindy Reigle (back), Kate Risser (back) Sr.

Top returning players: Meredith Bachman (midfield) Sr., Victoria Malloy (forward) Sr., Addie Hayes (back) Sr., Steph Inman (forward) Sr., Carolyn Enigk (back) Sr., Lydia Doeing (back) Sr., Courtney Conners (forward) Sr., Emily Feibig (forward) Jr., Morgan Zimmerman (forward) Jr., Katelyn Brightbill (midfield) Soph., Harper Sellers (back) Soph.

Promising newcomers: Michaela Singer (forward/midfield) Jr., Lauren Schrader (midfield) Fr., Haley Zimmerman (goalie) Jr., Cass Connelly (back)

OUTLOOK>>A-C lost only three players from last season's 10-win group, so there's a fair amount of optimism in the air in Annville thus far. Contending with the Section Three favorites is probably too much to ask, but a postseason berth is certainly possible.

"We have a strong group of seniors this year with many returning starters, since we only lost three seniors," Felty said. "We are cautiously optimistic. The girls get along great and are working really hard. We are hoping to be above .500 this season with a chance at qualifying for districts. Hopefully we can get things to click to make that happen."


Coach: Dana Risser, 6th year

Last year's record: 11-8, 7-7 Section One, District Three Class AAA playoff qualifier

Key players lost: Trish Gerdes (goalie),

Top returning players: Maddie Gable (forward) Sr.,Maddie Barron (midfield) Sr., Karis Colbert (midfield) Sr., Taylor Kauffman (midfield) Sr., Lexie Eberly (back) Sr., Megan Kleinfelter (back), Sr. Kelsey Bell (Goalie) Sr., Margaret Zug (back) Jr., Emily Peters (forward) Jr.,Emily Hombach (forward) Jr. Cailie Bernard (forward) Jr.

Promising newcomers: Emma Holzman (midfield) Fr.,Kathleen Steckbeck (midfield) Soph., Taisa Rutter (forward) Soph.

OUTLOOK>> Coming off a solid 2014 campaign that included a district playoff appearance and with a large group of returning players, optimism is running particularly high in South Lebanon. Competition is always formidable in L-L Section One, but the Falcons appear to be equipped to deal with it and secure another postseason trip.

"We have nearly our entire starting lineup and our key substitutes returning from last season so we have a very experienced group with a lot of depth this season," Risser said. "The players have been working very hard this off-season. This is a great group of girls with a team-first mentality. We have high expectations with so many returners and the girls are definitely hungry for a league and district playoff run."


Coach: Lisa Kercher, 5th year

Last year's record: 6-11-1 overall, 3-8-1 in Section Three

Key players lost: Claire Shaak (midfield) , Leanne Superdock (forward), Layne Conners (midfield), Amanda Axarlis (goalie, injured)

Top returning players: Hannah Williams (midfield) Jr., Sara Bentz (back) Sr., Alyssa Keath (forward) Jr., Emily Witmer (forward) Jr., Katie Fields (forward) Soph.,

Promising newcomers: Abbie Keath (forward) Fr., Kendra Bicksler (goalie) Soph., Vivian Lattanze (midfield) Soph., Sierra Swingholm (back/midfield) Jr.

OUTLOOK>> Graduation claimed some key performers, namely versatile athlete Shaak, and an injury will sideline standout goalie Axarlis for the season, but Kercher is nonetheless upbeat about the season ahead.

"Elco is excited for another fun and rewarding season of hockey. We have new and talented players joining us and are looking forward to seeing their contributions to the team," Kercher said. "It needs to be mentioned that we lost senior standout goalie, Amanda Axarlis, to an injury and she will have to sit out this season while recovering. We will have to bond together on the field to replace the hole she left. I feel confident in my players and their love of the game that they will shine this season."


Coach: Terri Johnston, 4th year

Last year's record: 2-16 overall, 0-12 in Section Two

Key players lost: Sarah Bray (defense), Scarla Collado (defense), Kaitlyn Jacoby (forward), Breanna Johnson (defense), Krista Marderness (forward), Katie Mehler (goalie/defense), Shilesky Montalvo (forward), Myah Parker (forward), Lauren Rasor (forward), Jeannie Showers (forward), Averi Watkins (midfield),

Top returning players: Ashley Kropf (forward/midfield) Sr. Megan Deck (midfield/defense) Jr., Emily Fake (goalie) Jr., Paola Morales (forward) Jr., Kianna Cotto (forward) Jr., Jessaca Reeves (defense) Jr., Hailey Reich (defense) Sr. Tariah Rozier (defense) Jr., Amanda Border (forward) Jr.

Promising newcomers: None listed

OUTLOOK>> The Cedars were hit hard by graduation, so 2015 shapes up as a learning season at LHS.

"This year's edition of Cedar Hockey has four seniors, nine juniors, one sophomore and four freshmen," Johnston said. "Having graduated 13 seniors, to say we are short on experience is an understatement. We will certainly use the first half of the season putting players in positions to find what works.

"We have already established a family-like atmosphere which we hope will bring out the strengths of our players."


Coach: Michelle Krall, 3rd year

Last year's record: 4-13 overall, 2-10 in Section Two

Key players lost: Sam Zeigler (forward), Natalie Bevans (back) Sr., Mckenzy Keener (forward/midfield), Katie Ream (midfield), Sam Yordy (back)

Top returning players: Kaley Donmoyer (midfield) Sr., Carey Hetrick (forward) Sr., Kim Weaner (midfield) Soph., Kaylee Mauser (back) Soph, Hannah Whitman (goalie) Soph.

Promising newcomers: Emma Kelliher (midfield) Fr., Sydney Mengel (midfield/forward) Fr., Carrie Shuey (midfield) Fr., Cassidy Ritchie (back) Fr., Addison Wallace (back) Fr., Grace Miller (back/midfield) Fr. McKenna Zohn (back) Fr., Victoria Heverling (forward) Fr.

OUTLOOK>> After struggling just to keep the program afloat the last few years, things are looking up in Fredericksburg.

A total of 24 players are out for the team, including 15 freshmen, which will give NL a JV squad for the first time in Krall's tenure.

"Our starting lineup includes a talented young group comprised of half newcomers and half returners, with a lot of potential for growth as our season progresses," Krall said. "This team is full of tough athletes who have put in hard work and dedication so far this season. As long as we keep up this rhythm, we'll make great strides and have fun doing it. This is an exciting season not only for us to see what we can accomplish this year, but to also see what's in store for the future of our program."


Coach: Kristi Costello, 7th year

Last year's record: 23-2-1 overall, 11-1 in Mid-Penn Keystone Division (co-champs), District Three AAA runner-up, PIAA Class AAA co-state champs.

Key players lost: Katie Dembrowski (midfield), Amanda Fuschetti (defender), Jess Fuschetti (forward)

Top returning players: Erin Huffman (forward) Sr., Kiley Gallagher (midfield) Sr., Carli Herman (back) Sr., Jess Dembrowski (midfield) Jr., Katelyn Mark (back) Jr., Kylie Bomgardner (midfield/forward) Jr., Cheyenne Sprecher (goalie) Jr., Kristen Robinson (back) Soph., Lexy Smith (forward) Soph.

Promising newcomers: Kristen Robinson (back) Soph., Lexy Smith (forward) Soph.

OUTLOOK>> The Cougars enjoyed a banner 2014 season, but came up just short of a AAA district title and shared the state championship with Penn Manor after a most unsatisfying title game tie. Despite the loss of field general Katie Dembrowski, now playing at Penn State, Palmyra will have justifiably have its sights set high again, with the talented nucleus of Huffman, Gallagher, Jess Dembrowski, Herman and Sprecher leading the way.

"We have a large portion of our team returning," Costello said. "Yes, we graduated Katie Dembrowski — who will go down as one of the finest players in our program's history. Her leadership will be hard to replace, but we have four captains and others who are ready to write their story and step into leadership roles. We are excited for the possibilities with this team."