Mount St. Joe freshman Eliza Ewing (left) tries to impede the progress of Conestoga High School’s Oliver Everts. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In the Class AAA field hockey tournament for PIAA District 1, Mount St. Joseph Academy both came and went as the number five seed. Ranked in that position for the start of the playoffs in October 22, the Magic won their first two games and then suffered a 3-2 setback against number four Unionville High School.

In its final two district games last week, the Mount (19-4) first secured a spot in the PIAA State Championships with Thursday’s 5-3 win over Conestoga High School, then came back a day later to prevail, 2-1, over West Chester’s Henderson High, in match to determine the fifth and sixth seeds among the half-dozen District 1 teams bracketed in the state tourney.

Those six slots in the draw make District 1 the best represented division in the state, but the last two teams traditionally face very strong opponents in the opening round. Mount St. Joe’s reward for winning on Friday is a first-round meeting this Tuesday with perpetual District 11 champ (24 straight seasons) Emmaus High School, a nationally prominent powerhouse which won its 10th state championship in 2010.

Henderson will encounter District 3 champion Penn Manor High School of Millersville, a franchise which upset what is regarded as the strongest Mount St. Joseph team ever in the 2007 PIAA semifinals, then went on to finish as runner-up that year before taking the state title in 2008. During the 2012 regular season, Emmaus defeated Penn Manor, 3-1.

Seeded fifth going into the district playoffs, the Magic overcame 28th seed Upper Merion and number 12 Garnet Valley in the first two rounds. In an October 26 quarterfinal they let a one-goal lead in the second half slip away against Unionville and thus entered the four-team play-in bracket for States.

Number 17 Conestoga fell in the quarterfinals to ninth-ranked Central Bucks West, but before that they had knocked off two teams seeded above them, including the overall number one team, Spring-Ford.

The traditional nickname for Conestoga sports teams is the Pioneers, but over the past two seasons the school’s field hockey squad has become better known as “the team with the boy.”

Before moving to the Philadelphia area with his family several years ago, sophomore Oliver Everts grew up – and became an accomplished hockey player – in the Netherlands, where men’s field hockey is a serious, thriving concern. Entering Conestoga High, the only opportunity he would have to play his favorite sport would be on an otherwise all-female team, and the PIAA actually has no rules prohibiting this (stemming from a decades-old Pa. Commonwealth Court injunction).

Even with Everts participating, Conestoga has not attained the level of Wilkes Barre’s Wyoming Seminary, which won the 2010 Class AA state championship with a German-born boy on the roster. In neighboring Maryland that could not have happened; their interscholastic governing body permits boys to play during the regular season, but not in the playoffs.

Both the Pioneers and the Magic came into Thursday’s tilt with records of 17-4 overall. The Mount never trailed, scoring with just 38 seconds elapsed when a drive from high in the left side of the circle by senior Ann Burgoyne was tipped in at the far post by sophomore Katie Fitzpatrick. Waiting in the same position later on, Fitzpatrick was bowled over by one of the [female] Pioneers and bumped her head on the ground. It was learned later that she suffered a minor concussion, and she didn’t play the following afternoon.

Conestoga quickly erased the Mount’s early lead, as senior Blake Hamblett scored with 27:47 still to play in the opening period. Burgoyne earned another assist at 25:03, when classmate Julia Mustin hit the ball in out of the air after it took a little hop off the turf.

The Magic earned penalty corners with 18 and 13 minutes left to go in the half, but the tally remained 2-1. The most promising shot on these restarts came from junior Millie Stefanowicz, but the ball rose up coming off her stick and a foul was called.

Just after the clock dropped below 10 minutes remaining, the Magic went up 3-1, with senior Emily Ehret whacking one in from near the middle of the circle. With electric power still out (from Hurricane Sandy) on the neutral field at Upper Dublin High School, the scoreboard wasn’t functioning and coaches kept checking with the scoring table for updates on the time and the game score.

The half ended at 3-2 thanks to Everts’ lone goal of the afternoon. With his back to the cage about 10 feet out, he received a pass from just above the circle, then pivoted and shot in one motion to pull the Pioneers back within one point for the intermission.

“He’s definitely very skilled,” said MSJ’s Mustin. “It was interesting seeing him wearing the skirt and everything, but we tried not to let it get to us and just play normally.”

A Norwood Fontbonne Academy graduate along with Burgoyne and freshman starter Eliza Ewing, Mustin is mulling over schools such as St. Joseph’s and West Chester University to continue her field hockey career.

She’s also been contacted by colleges in regard to her winter sport, ice hockey, and she noted “I don’t know which one I’m going to play yet.”

Trailing in total penalty corners 2-5 at the half, Conestoga immediately earned a corner when play resumed, but sophomore Katie Maransky cleared the ball out for the Mount, and before long the Magic were ringing the circle for a corner play of their own.

When the insertion came out to the top for Ehret, she dished to her right for Mustin, who drove the ball down across the front of the cage. At the left post, senior Ali Waters kept the ball alive to set up Fitzpatrick’s second goal of the day with 3:13 elapsed in the new period. As at the start of the first half, Conestoga quickly responded to the Mount marker, trimming the lead back to one just 24 seconds later when senior Karla Di Pietro converted off an assist from junior Maggie Friel.

With a little over nine minutes gone, the Pioneers’ Everts advanced down the left wing with the ball, but found his progress halted by Ewing. He made a number of other quick attacks towards the circle, setting MSJ fans on edge, but the Magic kept track of his whereabouts and were ready with back-up when he got past one or two defenders.

Right after Everts’ aforementioned encounter with Ewing, the Mounties quickly reversed the flow and put the 5-3 final score on the board with 20:07 left to play. Mount St. Joe kept attacking and almost added a sixth goal three minutes later, when a deflection by Mustin went a little wide of the cage.

After taking a time-out with 13 minutes left, Conestoga generated more offensive activity, but no goals. Both Ehret and Stefanowicz cleared the ball out of the circle on Pioneer rushes late in the game. In the final minute, Everts came in along the left endline and flicked the ball towards the cage, but MSJ junior goalie Christina Black (nine saves) stopped the shot at the near post.

With action ranging quickly up and down the pitch, the match had given both teams a good workout, and that evening the Mounties found out they would be playing their seeding game the next day.

After the second contest, Mustin remarked, “I was surprised when they told us that we were playing again so soon, but I just rested up really well last night and came out ready to play.”

Someone else who apparently got a good night’s sleep was Black, who made 16 saves in Friday’s bout on the neutral turf of Haverford High School.

The Mounties scored early and then reinforced their lead before halftime, but although Henderson didn’t get on the board until the waning moments of the affair, they posed numerous scoring threats throughout the game.

The Warriors’ coach, Jen O’Donnell, is a high-level NCAA lacrosse official, and her hockey team was obviously well-drilled and very determined. Both teams were already in the state tourney and destined to meet very tough opponents no matter what the outcome was on Friday, but it was nice to see that neither squad was willing to let up even a little.

Henderson, better known over the years for its lacrosse teams, would be making its first appearance in the PIAA hockey tournament.

Mustin related, “We knew that their best players were number 30 [senior Emily Torrance] and number 5 [junior Katie O’Donnell, the coach’s daughter], and we were able to keep them from scoring until that goal right at the end.”

At the outset, Torrance teed off twice from close range, but MSJ’s Black repulsed both shots, foreshadowing what would be one of her strongest performances this season. The Magic earned a corner about six minutes in, and then kept possession of the ball when the Warriors fouled again. Ehret dribbled a few times in the middle, then drove the ball home to put the Mount on the (functioning) scoreboard. Having gotten used to the conditions at the field on Thursday, MSJ coach Christina Post asked the scoring table for the time at one point in Friday’s match, instead of just looking up at the numbers in lights.

Soon after Ehret scored, Henderson goalie Emily Finn (nine saves) used her leg pads to stop a shot by Burgoyne, and a little later the ball actually got stuck in the bottom of one of her pads following a shot by Stefanowicz.

After a time-out with a dozen minutes left, the Warriors came back out and earned back-to-back corners. The first play sort of fizzled out on its own, and on the second the Mount’s Maransky flew out to the top of the circle to block the ball right on the receiver’s stick.

Mount St. Joe went up 2-0 with 7:13 remaining in the first half. From the midfield, Mustin sent a pass ahead to Burgoyne near the edge of the circle, and Burgoyne dribbled by two defenders to score. Despite more offensive opportunities for both sides, the 2-0 count held up until the intermission.

As the second period unfolded, Henderson’s Finn made a tough stop on a ball pounded by Ehret, and later a shot by Burgoyne tracked a little wide of the left post. Over the last 12 minutes or so, the Warriors pressured the Mount defense much of the time. Finally, Henderson’s efforts bore fruit as O’Donnell found the back of the cage on a rising shot from the right side of the circle. The marker went in the books with 2:35 remaining in the game, and the Warriors didn’t have another goal in them.