by Tom Utescher
A spate of injuries over the first month of the field hockey season obscured the true abilities of the Mount St. Joseph Academy franchise, but the Magic now appear to be peaking at exactly the right time.
Champions of the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies and the runner-up in District 1, the Mount won a pair of PIAA tournament games last week and will make its first appearance in the Class AAA state semifinals since 2007. Mount St. Joe is the only Southeastern Pa. team (Districts 1 & 12) to reach the semifinals in any division of the 2010 tourney.
The local sticksters didn’t receive an easy draw. Last Tuesday they opened up against defending state champion Lower Dauphin High School and came from behind to secure a 4-3 victory on goals by junior Allie Sabia, sophomore Emilee Ehret, and seniors Mary Jo Horgan and Jenna Seybert. In the quarterfinal round on Saturday, Sabia’s twin sister Brooke scored both goals in a 2-1 victory over Northampton.
Owners of an 18-4-1 overall record at the end of the week, the Magic found themselves matched up against Lancaster County’s Cocalico High School, which is coming off an overtime win against Hershey High, the 2009 state runner-up.
Reflecting on the PIAA tourney opener against Lower Dauphin, MSJ coach Lois Weber said “That game was indicative of our team, I think. We’ve worked a lot on transferring the ball and running our transition so that everybody has the opportunity to pass or to be the open player. We work the ball around well, and though we may not have that big superstar, we’ve got nice strong players at every position.”
“Our ability to really play as a unit is what’s gotten us this far,” said Horgan, who is also a starter on the Mount’s basketball team. “We’ve really bonded and the chemistry is working well.”
It was the first time in three meetings that the Magic were able to get the better of Lower Dauphin; they had lost to the Falcons in the 2006 state championship game and in the opening round of the 2008 PIAA tournament. Mount St. Joe did not earn a spot in the state tourney in 2009.
Last Tuesday, the Mounties found themselves playing catch-up after Lower Dauphin scored just 53 seconds into the affair.
Allie Sabia struck with just under 14 minutes remaining in the first period to create a 1-1 tie at the half, but seven minutes into the second round the Falcons moved ahead again, 2-1. Mount St. Joe answered two minutes later, with Ehret transitioning down the right wing and penetrating the circle for a successful shot.
On a corner play in the middle of the period, Lower Dauphin’s Suzy Martin found the backboard to give her squad the lead one last time. The outcome was resolved when the Magic deposited a pair of goals as the clock dropped from eight minutes to seven minutes remaining.
First, another MSJ transition sequence produced another tying goal (3-3), this time with Horgan carrying the ball into the circle and scoring.
“I don’t even think I meant to shoot it,” she revealed. “I was just trying to drive the ball low in the circle and I was shocked when it went in. It went through the legs of two people and then the goalies’ legs.”
The Mount kept pressing and quickly earned a penalty corner. On a straightforward play, Allie Sabia inserted the ball to the top of the circle for Seybert, who slammed it into the cage.
“I don’t know if their goalie even saw the ball,” Coach Weber said.
Mount senior goalie Kat Matchett made seven saves in the contest, and she would record six stops in the quarterfinal bout against Northampton four days later.
This time the Magic seized the initiative as the other Sabia sister, Brooke, fired the icebreaker midway through the first frame and then reinforced the lead with a second goal about five-and-a-half minutes before the intermission.
“They’ve both really picked it up this year,” Coach Weber said of the twins from Norwood Fontbonne Academy. ”They’ve always been hard workers and now they’re maturing and getting stronger. They’re very skilled, and they’re extremely quick to the ball.”
Northampton avoided a shutout thanks to Kristin Kichline’s goal with about 15 minutes remaining in the game. The Magic still controlled much of the action, though, earning nine corners to the Konkrete Kids’ three during the second half.
The Mount’s last encounter with Northampton had come under similar circumstances. In the same round of the 2007 state tourney, the Magic had routed the K-Kids to move into a semifinal contest played at Exeter High School, near Reading. There, the Mounties saw their championships dreams dashed in a 2-0 loss to an up-and-coming Penn Manor squad.
Last Saturday’s win sent the Magic out to play in Exeter’s stadium once more, but this time Penn Manor is already out of the picture. State runner-up in 2007 and the AAA champion in 2008, the Millersville, PA program lost 2-1 in a Saturday quarterfinal against Allentown area powerhouse Emmaus High School. With that win, Emmaus improved to 25-0, reinforcing its #1 national ranking in the Hockeypower poll.