Trib Cup: Shady Side Academy field hockey overcame roster turnover
Audrey Koi entered her senior season with the Shady Side Academy field hockey team having already won two WPIAL Class AA championships and having played on the team with the best regular-season record of any team in the classification during the only season in which she did not win a WPIAL title.
But even within a program as successful as the Indians', there can sometimes be uneasiness or apprehension heading into a season.
They usually end without any such reservations.
Shady Side Academy won its sixth WPIAL Class AA title in the past eight years with a 2-1 overtime victory against Sewickley Academy on Wednesday at North Allegheny.
The spotlight is on the Indians in this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature. The field hockey team's continued success is a primary reason why Shady Side Academy is tied for first place in the Class AA standings.
And yet, in following a season in which it went 14-0 against WPIAL Class AA teams and was a PIAA quarterfinalist like the Indians were in 2011-12, even a top program like SSA field hockey has roster turnover — and the anxiety of the unknown that comes with it.
“I was a little nervous at the beginning of the season because we lost so many seniors,” SSA co-captain Koi said after the championship game Wednesday night. “But we've done so well as a team. It just feels great — it always feels great to have another medal.”
The Indians have made collecting WPIAL gold medals part of their mid-autumn routine. This is 12 titles for the team since 1994.
“I believe the program is so successful due to the constant enthusiasm of the upperclassmen, which encourages our middle school players to continue to play,” fourth-year coach Erin Weir said. “The support from our athletic department also plays a big role in making our program successful.”
After losing six seniors to graduation, this season's senior class includes Koi, a forward, co-captain midfielder Micky Saperstein and forward Sydney Mordoh, who scored the championship-winning goal in overtime Wednesday.
“I look to them all to be good leaders and role models for the underclassmen,” Weir said.
But even with a strong senior core, the Indians wouldn't be where they are without enhanced play by those underclassmen this season. Weir said she's been “pleasantly surprised” by her group of younger, inexperienced players.
Five first-year varsity players — including two freshmen — have been key contributors: Sophomore goalie Gabby Harchelroad, freshman midfielder Corby Wolfe, freshman forward Sarah Anania, sophomore forward Marjorie Crimmins and junior forward Zoe Wecht.
“I knew we would be young this year, but I'm impressed with how the young players have stepped up and filled the shoes of those who have left,” Weir said. “I'm happy with their progress and with their ability to adapt to a faster game.”
Of the younger players, for obvious reasons, the play of the goalie is perhaps the most important. Harchelroad is only in her second year playing the position, to say nothing of being in her first season as a starter at this level.
“She is an extremely hard worker and has really stepped up this year as the varsity goalie,” Weir said.
Shady Side Academy will play a first-round PIAA Class AA tournament game Tuesday against the winner of a region made up of District 5 and District 6.
In a sport that is dominated by schools from the eastern side of the state, deep PIAA playoff runs are almost unheard of for a WPIAL team.
“I think states always has been a lot harder than WPIALs for us, so I think we just have to stay focused and remember to play our game,” Koi said. “The biggest thing is just to communicate a lot with each other, and our passing game is really one of our key strong points on our team. We just have to keep that up. If we do, I think we will look good for states.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.