New Penn Charter field hockey coach Melissa Grosman addresses her players following their first scrimmage last Wednesday. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

It’s a good thing that the numerous and talented juniors in Penn Charter’s field hockey program appear ready to take the mantle of leadership on their shoulders. The Quakers are now operating under their third head coach just since these girls were freshmen, and new mentor Melissa Grosman is taking over a team without a single senior on the roster.

During their coaching search, Penn Charter administrators had to be impressed by Grosman’s resume, which begins with a distinguished high school career in more than one sport.

While she played for perennial field hockey powerhouse Emmaus High School (near Allentown, Pa.), the Green Hornets won three PIAA state championships and Grosman herself was named First Team All-State as a senior. She also helped the Emmaus basketball team reach the final four of the state tournament, and the preeminent newspaper in the Lehigh Valley region named her Player of the Year during her final season.

She continued to play basketball for two years at Syracuse University, but field hockey became her main focus. She was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week several times, and helped the Orangewomen win the Big East championship in 2001.

After leaving Syracuse she was an assistant field hockey coach for Lehigh University from 2003-2006, and then was head coach at Frostburg State University, an NCAA Division III school in western Maryland. Most recently, she worked as an official and coach in San Diego before returning back East.

The new assistant coach at PC is Maura Hennigan, a product of Central Bucks West High School and Franklin & Marshall College. She graduated this spring from F & M, where she earned Second Team All-American honors in field hockey.

Providing a sense of continuity for the Penn Charter program is Liz Wills, who is helping out with both the Upper School and Middle School programs, and who is the mother of two former PC stick stars. She was a member of La Salle University’s NCAA Division II National Championship team in 1980.

Wills’ younger daughter, Anna, was one of seven seniors who graduated from the Quakers’ 2012 team. Both she and her older sister, Liz (’11) are playing at Bucknell University.

Since no one from last year’s small junior class elected to play this fall, Charter’s 11 current juniors will be the engine that powers the team in the 2013 campaign. Among the leaders are Tara Murphy, a St. Philip Neri graduate who is now a member of the U.S. Under-17 Team, and high-scoring Avery Shoemaker, who also plays lacrosse and has already verbally committed to the University of Virginia for that sport.

Junior classmate Grace Harbison has also been one of the Quakers’ leading players since this class was coming up through grade school. The other 11th-grade field players are Sophie Eldridge, Dolly Segal, Sofia Toso, Holly Webb, Barclay Wohlstetter, and Layne Wolfington, and 11th-grade goalkeepers Kennedy Kline and Emily Ominsky are back after splitting time in the cage for the 2012 varsity squad.

In the Quakers’ first scrimmage, a meeting with Upper Merion High School last Wednesday following just two days of practice, the only non-junior starter was sophomore back Bella Smith. She is one of five 10th-graders on the roster and there are also seven freshmen in the mix as Coach Grossman sorts out the line-ups for the Upper School program.

Although Upper Merion, like all the PIAA schools, had started practice the previous week on August 12, most of Penn Charter’s skilled players have been playing together for years, and this gave the Quakers an advantage.

The varsity scrimmage consisted of 25-minute halves, and after goals by Shoemaker and Eldridge that came seven and 11 minutes into the action, PC led the rest of the way. Sophomore Ellie Zimering subbed in for the Quakers about midway through the first period.

With 6:21 left in the half, the visiting Vikings got on the board, but Charter led 3-1 at the intermission thanks to a late goal by Toso, who tipped in a ball driven into the circle from the right wing by Shoemaker.

Upper Merion took the play to PC as the second half unfolded, and the host Quakers called time-out with 11:34 left to play. The home team was more assertive after that, and eventually the locals added a fourth goal. It came in the final minute after several passes on a penalty corner. Eldridge shot the ball from the right, and Shoemaker was near the front of the cage to complete the play.

The Quakers will begin Girls Inter-Ac League play with a September 10 match against Baldwin School, and on September 12 they’ll host nearby rival Germantown Friends.