On a penalty corner for Methacton High School, Mount St. Joe sophomore Grace Wallis (right) blocked this shot launched by the Warriors’ Jen Rees. In goal at left is MSJ senior Allison McMullen. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

On a penalty corner for Methacton High School, Mount St. Joe sophomore Grace Wallis (right) blocked this shot launched by the Warriors’ Jen Rees. In goal at left is MSJ senior Allison McMullen. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

“Hey Mount, hey Mount, don’t dream it’s over.” – with apologies to Crowded House

Mount St. Joseph Academy battled to the end in each of its final two field hockey games in the PIAA District 1 Class AAA tournament. Two weeks ago the 11th-seeded Magic lost a 4-3 struggle against then-undefeated number three Central Bucks West, slipping into the playback bracket for one final shot at making the state tourney.

Here, also, the Magic fell short by a single point in a Wednesday afternoon outing at Methacton High School. The Magic matched the Warriors’ opening goal for a 1-1 tie at halftime, then the seventh-seeded hosts went up 3-1 in the second period. The Mounties scored with 10 minutes left, but couldn’t tie the game a second time, losing 3-2.

This fall, a speedy and skilled group of freshman and sophomores blended well with junior and senior veterans, making the Magic more exciting to watch than they’ve been for some time. The improvement was not simply in the eye of the observer, but was also documented by the squad’s results.

In 2014, Mount St. Joe finished fourth within the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies for the second year in a row. Seeded 18th for the district playoffs, the Magic picked up a 1-0 win in overtime in the opening round, then fell, 2-0, to Central Bucks South, which went on to become the District 1 runner-up and then a state semifinalist.

This fall the Mounties climbed up to second place in the AACA, and rose seven spots in the seeding for the district tournament, where they would wind up playing four games. After a 2-0 opening-round victory over number 22 Avon Grove, all of the Mount’s opponents would be seeded seventh or higher. In another 2-0 contest, the Magic upset number six Downingtown West before facing C.B. West in the quarterfinals and then Methacton in the playback bracket.

“It was a great group of kids who worked extremely hard the whole season,” said head coach Tina Reinprecht, who has just completed her second season in Phase Two of her Mount coaching career. “It was also really valuable to have a full coaching staff this year.”

The primary varsity assistant was former Uruguayan national team player and coach Betta Ceretta, who also works with Reinprecht in the Mystx Field Hockey Club. Serving as additional varsity assistants and piloting the JV were Mary Beth Stefanowicz (the mother of three past and present MSJ sticksters) and Vanessa Fry.

In last week’s 2015 season swansong, the Mounties were taking on a Methacton club that came in with a 16-4-1 record. The team started eight seniors, five of whom already have plans in place to play hockey in college.

The Mount had surprised C.B. West in the early stages of the previous week’s quarterfinal, taking a 2-0 lead over the Bucks. The Warriors must have been paying attention; they started out at full throttle, taking the ball up on attack and keeping it there as they also kept an eye on a key link in the Magic’s transition game, seasoned sophomore Grace Wallis.

Methacton earned four penalty corners in a little over six minutes, and Mount St. Joe barely got across the midfield stripe at all during the first 10. More than 11 minutes in, the first MSJ corner didn’t produce a shot, then the Warriors took the play back to the far end of the pitch.

They were awarded another corner with a little over 14 minutes gone. The Mount defense almost cleared the ball out of the circle, but the hosts knocked it back toward the cage and sophomore Olivia Hoover got Methacton on the board with 15:47 remaining in the first half.

“They were fired up and they came out strong, and they put a lot of marks around Grace in the middle,” Reinprecht remarked. “We were fortunate they only got one goal during that onslaught in the first 10 or 15 minutes. They certainly had a lot of ball possession on our defensive circle.”

Sparked by the Methacton goal, the Magic revived and tied the game three minutes later. An MSJ corner did not lead directly to a shot, but junior Marge Lynch (a Norwood Fontbonne graduate and Princeton recruit) gathered the ball high in the right side of the circle and sent it back down low. After a touch by sophomore Natalie McNamara in front of the cage, freshman Ellie Maransky knocked it in.

MSJ senior goalie Allison McMullen held off the Warriors for the rest of the half, and on a corner at the other end with a little over two minutes to go, the Mount ended up shooting the ball over the goal cage.

The Warriors went into their halftime huddle with an 8-3 advantage in penalty corners, and they came back out to have junior Jackie Cerchio shoot their second goal just over four minutes into the new period.

Six minutes later, Wallis got off a strong drive from up top on a Mount corner, but the ball thudded into a leg pad of Warriors goalie Sarah Park, who has committed to Lafayette College.

At the other end, Park’s classmate Maddie Alderfer (who is headed for Holy Cross) scored from the left side or the circle in the aftermath of a penalty corner. The hosts were now ahead 3-1 with 17:42 left to play.

The Mounties now had to go after it on offense, but, curiously, they didn’t score until they were actually playing shorthanded due to a green card penalty.

Breaking out of their defensive posture as they got the ball to Julianna Kratz on the right side, the Mounties saw the freshman speed down the wing. Sophomore Natalie McNamara ran with her and filled the middle, and when Kratz dished the ball over inside the circle, McNamara put it away to make it a one-goal game with 10:15 remaining.

“I haven’t had many teams with this type of speed,” Reinprecht said. “Julianna, Natalie, Ellie and Grace can all fly, and Margot Biamon (a junior) has good speed too.”

Methacton called time-out with 8:53 to go, and after that the Warriors played very solid defense the rest of the way, limiting the Mount’s offensive rushes by effectively blocking free hits in the midfield. Park, the keeper, made five saves in the victory, while the Mount’s McMullen gave her usual strong performance, making 12 stops. Methacton’s final advantage in corner plays was 13-4.

When considering graduation losses, Reinprecht had to start with McMullen.

“She’s had a fabulous career and replacing her will be a major undertaking,” said the MSJ mentor, whose other two keepers are freshmen who split time for the JV team.

There were 11 seniors on the Mount roster this fall, with Taylor Grey and Courtney Target serving as team co-captains. Gray and Norwood grad Eliza Ewing (who plans to play for Johns Hopkins) already earned starting roles on defense as freshmen.

“Taylor and Eliza are big, strong, physical kids,” noted Reinprecht. “You need that in today’s game, where the players are more and more athletic.”

Another defender and Norwood grad, Taylor Merkle, has committed to Fairfield University, and other senior defenders who made a lot of contributions were Mairéad Denton and Liz DeGroat. Their classmate Virginia Poliwoda usually came off the bench to give a boost to the offense and midfield.

Poliwoda’s junior sister Hanna and fellow 11th-grader Ava Self were also key factors in the overall depth of the 2015 Mounties.

The recent resurgence of the MSJ program is due in part to the work that most of the players are putting in during the offseason.

“Many of the kids are playing club hockey and working on their game all the time, and that’s what you see with the really good teams,” Reinprecht pointed out. “This is a strong, competitive area for field hockey, and you don’t come up with a great team overnight. You have to go through a process of building and improving.”