by Tom Utescher
About this time last year, Wyndmoor native Emilee Ehret made a decision that would spare her from returning dozens of phone calls and answering hundreds of e-mails. Then a junior at Mount St. Joseph Academy, Ehret made an early verbal commitment to play field hockey at Penn State, whose team has been ranked as high as third in the nation in 2012.
She’d been considering other schools such as the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Richmond, and Boston University, and not just for field hockey.
“She could’ve played Division I lacrosse easily,” pointed out Jen Duckenfield, who coached her in that sport last spring at the Mount. “She was a second team All-American last season.”
Unusually tall for a hockey player at 5’10”, Ehret has power to go along with her stature.
MSJ hockey coach Christina Post said, “Emilee has this amazing big hit where she can find great lanes through people’s block-ups to hit our forwards and our offensive center mid.”
She started out as the Magic’s offensive center mid this fall, then shifted back towards the defensive end as part of a personnel adjustment the team made in the middle of the season.
“She’s been great at distributing the ball, and she’s really helped us stretch the field,” Post said. “Defensively, she was a great leader for the young girls we had in the back. She was always encouraging and she really helped teach the young players out on the field.”
Ehret’s two older sisters were both distinguished athletes at Penn Charter. The eldest, Whitney, was a distance runner and a diver, but Emilee takes more after middle sister Margaretha, an All-Inter-Ac League hockey and lacrosse player who signed with the University of Virginia for field hockey, and later transferred to Penn.
The youngest Ehret recalled, “Growing up it was always me and Whitney versus Margaretha in the back yard, so it was even.”
The athletic pedigree extends back to her mother, Lori, a field hockey player at the College of William and Mary, and her father Patrick, who played basketball at Duke.
Ehret noted, “Even my aunts on my mom’s side were all hockey players.”
Lois Weber, who coached her in hockey during her first three high school seasons, observed “She has an excellent athletic build. She’s like a thoroughbred, with both of her parents college athletes and the older sisters, as well. You could see that natural talent right away.
“She helped our program out a lot,” Weber went on. “She really stepped up as a sophomore, and that year she scored in the state quarterfinals when we beat Lower Dauphin, who was the defending state champion.”
Like her older siblings, the youngest Ehret attended Penn Charter in lower school, then went to Springfield Township Middle School. While she was there, her mother became the lacrosse coach at Mount St. Joe’s, and that’s where she decided to attend high school. She had also looked at Germantown Academy and Lawrenceville School.
“I’d never been to a Catholic school before, so it was a big change for me,” she recalled. “It worked out really well, because I’ve been very happy at the Mount and I loved being at an all-girls school.”
She said that in the academic realm “I enjoyed all my math classes, and I took a lot of honors courses. My favorite was AP Statistics, which I took my junior year.
“They have a very strong business school at Penn State,” she continued, “and that appealed to me. I like dealing with money. My father’s a financial advisor, but I kind of got interested in it on my own.”
On the athletic fields, she went from strength to strength.
Her first Mount coach, Weber, said, “She’s an intense kid who tries extremely hard, and over the years her skill level has improved consistently. When she gets the opportunity to play and practice all the time on turf at Penn State [the Mount still has a grass field), I think she’ll continue to get better and she’ll help their program.”
Lacrosse mentor Duckenfield said, “With Emilee, it’s one of those things where she’s the hardest-working player out there, but she makes everything look easy. She picks everything up so quickly and she’s extremely coachable. Her size, speed, and strength separates her from most players.”
Her mental approach also draws praise from coaches.
Post opined, “She’s very technically skilled and strong, but I think one of her best assets is that she understands the game so well. She reads how a defense is moving and that’s how she’s able to find passing lanes. She’s also very good at drawing people in and the putting the ball in the space that’s just opened up. With Emilee, you can tell that there’s always a plan.”
She helped the Mount reach the state semifinals in 2010, and the Magic made it back to the PIAA tourney in each of the next two seasons. In this year’s opening-round loss to perennial upstate power Emmaus High School, Ehret scored the Magic’s lone goal on a big drive off of a penalty corner, and Mount St. Joe ended the season with a 19-5 record.
In the winter, she plays indoor hockey for True North United, a club led by former professional ice hockey player Jeff Harding, who is also the field hockey coach at Central Bucks South High School. Last winter, True North tied for second place at the National Indoor Tournament.
The club schedule is not as rigorous as during Ehret’s school sports seasons, and she finds time to volunteer regularly at the St. Francis Inn Soup Kitchen in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. The star athlete is also a member of the Spanish Honors Society at the Mount.
Just after the Mount’s hockey season ended last fall, Ehret played in a tournament at Penn State, and her mother encouraged her to expand the trip to include an official recruiting visit.
“I was impressed by how clean and beautiful the campus was,” she related. “I was worried that such a large school might not be for me, but as I walked around I was very comfortable talking to people, and I just felt a sense of belonging.
“I really liked the coaches and the girls on the team,” she went on, “and when I went to a game I was so excited I just wanted to run out on the field and start playing with them. I know I have a lot of work to do before that happens, and I have to adjust to the speed of the game after playing on grass most of the time in high school. Of course, you always want to keep improving your stick skills.”
She said that when she talked with the Lady Lions’ coaches, “They liked my size and my presence on the field, and they liked the strong drives that I have. They said I moved well for a larger girl – I’ll probably be the tallest girl on the team.”
The PSU coaches said they felt her height gave her a comprehensive view of the action all over the field, but it also gives her something else. A degree of back pain is almost inevitable for a lanky field hockey player.
She commented, “My mom never pushed me towards field hockey over lacrosse, and I think part of it is she knows how sore I am when I get home after playing hockey for awhile. I still really enjoy lacrosse, and I’m going to play this spring and whenever I can get time.”
If you happened to be on the sidelines at an MSJ game, you’d notice that very few people actually call Ehret by her given name. Instead of Emilee, just about everyone calls her “Dog,” a moniker that older sibling Margaretha co-opted from a Disney Channel TV show and hung on the youngest member of the clan when she was a third-grader.
She said. “I remember back at Penn Charter walking down the hall and everyone was calling me Dog, because my sister spread it around the whole school. It just stuck with me; I even had backpacks monogrammed ‘Dog.’
“My mom calls me Dog in stores,” she revealed, “and people look around like ‘who names their child Dog?’ At games, other teams ask “who’s this Dog on your team?’ I love it, personally, because it kind of suits the way that I play.”
It certainly applies to her dogged determination, as evidenced by a story told by her lacrosse coach, Jen Duckenfield.
“I remember last spring we were beating Villa Maria, but they came back and tied us and they were threatening to score again right near the end of the game,” Duckenfield recounted. “I screamed ‘Emilee, steal the ball now and just go to goal.’ She looked at me, then she went over, took the ball away, and transitioned down and scored. She’s that kind of player.”