Two New England-bound seniors pursue the ball during last week’s state tournament opener. Mount St. Joe’s Ann Burgoyne (left) has committed to Connecticut’s Fairfield University, while Jessica Unger of Emmaus High School will play at Northeastern University in Boston. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Whitehall, Pa. – Playing in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAA state tournament last Tuesday evening, the Mount St. Joseph Academy field hockey team became this year’s victim of the infamous District 1 “fifth-seed trap.”

By securing the fifth spot coming out of the district tourney in a “pigtail” game between the last two of the six teams to make it to the state tourney, the winner is always rewarded with a match against the District 11 champion, which for the past 24 years running has been Emmaus High School up alongside Allentown.

Emmaus has won 10 state championships and has held many number one rankings in national scholastic polls over the years, and last week the Green Hornets buzzed by the Mount Magic, 3-1. In the match on a neutral field at Whitehall High School (a few miles north of Allentown), the Mount fell behind 2-0 in a little over 13 minutes, but did not allow another goal until eight minutes remained in the game.

Five minutes after the Hornets’ second goal, MSJ senior Emilee Ehret (who will sign with Penn State) scored directly off of a penalty corner insertion for a 2-1 count at the interlude. The play was much closer between the teams throughout the second half.

“We may have started off a little scared, but I think after a few minutes that just went away, and we gave it our all,” remarked Magic senior co-captain Ann Burgoyne, a Norwood Fontbonne Academy graduate who has committed to play college hockey at Fairfield University. “In my first couple years we played [Emmaus] in the pre-season, and we thought we had a chance to beat them, but they’re always very good.”

The Mounties sheathed their sticks for the season with an overall record of 19-5, having finished second within their own Athletic Association of Catholic Academies. Emmaus moved on with a mark of 23-1. The Hornets had lost a 1-0 overtime game on the natural grass field at Liberty High School (Bethlehem) back in September, but later they rolled over Liberty, 4-0, to win their ninth straight Lehigh Valley Conference title.

In its early exit from the state tourney, Mount St. Joe had plenty of company right within District 1, as five of the six teams lost in the opening round. The lone survivor, fourth-seeded Wissahickon High School, knocked off another Philly area school, District 12 champ Cardinal O’Hara, but then lost 3-0 in the second round to Lower Dauphin, the fourth seed out of District 3.

Whatever nervousness the Mounties felt last Tuesday evening was probably compounded by what turned out to be quite a long wait to take the field. Scheduled before their game at Whitehall was a Class AA contest between Wyoming Seminary and Southern Lehigh. On hand to scout this affair were the coaches from the Mount’s traditional rival Villa Maria Academy, which won the Catholic Academies title this year.

The opening game of the twin bill was tied at the end of regulation play, and the deadlock could not be broken during two 15-minute overtime periods and two best-of-five penalty stroke sessions. Finally, Wyoming Seminary prevailed in the sudden-victory stroke round.

The Class triple-A game would get underway almost 45 minutes late, and conditions were downright cold. By halftime of the second contest, dew had crystalized to form a frosty coating on the scorers’ table and on the equipment bags of the players.

From the Hornets’ reputation, and from going over a video of the District 11 championship game, second-year Mount coach Christina Post knew Emmaus was very dangerous on corner plays, and that’s exactly how the Hornets got on the board first with 3:37 elapsed. Off an assist from Old Dominion recruit Sarah Kazmierski, sophomore sensation Teresa Carotenuto put away the first of her two goals on the night.

“They’re very disciplined in their shape,” Coach Post observed. “They always have someone on each post and someone at the stroke [line]. They’re there with their sticks low and they’re ready for a rebound. You given them a rebound and it’s coming right back down your throat.”

Soon after its first scoring play, Emmaus was awarded another corner when a Mountie inadvertently let her mouthguard slip out and was spotted by an eagle-eyed ref. The Magic survived this play, but Emmaus continued to control much of the action, and a few big hits across midfield by the Mount didn’t lead to any serious, coordinated assaults.

As the midpoint of the period approached the Magic managed to get up near the circle, but the Hornets took the ball away and rushed down the field on a counterattack. Emmaus capitalized on the quick reversal to go up 2-0, with Carotenuto setting up a strike by junior Krissy Mikelson with 16:38 left in the first half.

At a point like this, the players on the trailing team have to make a decision to not allow early setbacks to turn the game into a rout.

During a time-out, Post encouraged her team to play more boldly.

“Our offense looked too timid,” she said. “They were in a defensive mindset and they weren’t getting up the field and stretching the field the way we usually do.”

The Magic steadied themselves, and began to attack more effectively.

“We definitely had more confidence as the game went on and we saw that we could play with them,” Burgoyne said.

When the Magic earned their first penalty corner, Burgoyne made the insertion from the left endline out to senior classmate Emilee Ehret at the top of the circle. Then, as ‘90’s boy band Hanson might have put it, “In an Em-bop it’s gone.”

The Penn State recruit pounded the ball back down towards the cage, beating sophomore goalie Tori Laczo on her right side. The Magic would not have a chance to try to repeat this scenario, as this would be their only offensive penalty corner all evening.

Emmaus finished with seven corners, including the one stemming from the Mount mouthguard malfunction. That’s actually a respectable total against a team like the Green Hornets; in another Tuesday game, District 1 three-seed Central Bucks West yielded 26 corners in a 5-1 loss to District 3 runner-up Central Dauphin. Central Dauphin bowed to Emmaus in the next round, 2-0.

Emmaus struck the MSJ backboard with a shot that appeared to give the Hornets a 3-1 lead with 6:34 to go in the period, but a foul on the play nullified the apparent score and the half ended with the count still 2-1.

In the second half, the ball spent a roughly equal amount of time in the Emmaus and the Mount halves of the field. The Hornets penetrated into the circle more frequently than the Magic, but only added two more corners to its 5-1 halftime advantage.

Carotenuto’s second goal, with 8:23 left to play, tacked the final score on the board and Emmaus, as usual, moved on. Christina Black, the junior goalie for Mount St. Joe, came away with seven saves on the night.

Back on October 1, about midway through the season, the Magic had a 9-3 record that included two league losses to Villa Maria, and one to Gwynedd Mercy. The team had also lost the services of talented freshman defender Taylor Gray, who went out with a stress fracture.

For this and other reasons, the Magic made some position changes that improved their performance. Even with a 3-2 defeat by runner-up Unionville High School in the district tournament and the setback in States last week, the Mounties went 10-2 after the First of October.

Ehret had moved back on the field to play defensive center mid, while fellow senior Julia Mustin was shifted up to the attack.

“When I moved her up into the forward line it changed a lot of things, helped us create more,” Post explained. “And defensively, Emilee was a great leader for those young girls in the back.”

Mustin finished up with 17 goals and five assists for the season, not that far behind top-scorer Burgoyne (18 goals, 13 assists). Playmaker Ehret had a team-high 17 assists along with 10 goals, and the fourth senior on the squad, Ali Waters (co-captain along with Burgoyne), registered six goals and four assists.

The team’s most skilled junior, Millie Stefanowicz, missed a good chunk of the season due to injury, but a strong sophomore class saw a lot of action. All will need to step up and help lead the team going forward, so the Magic can move up in the District 1 tournament and avoid falling back into the fifth-seed trap at States.