Familiar foes clash in state’s final four
MILLERSTOWN — There’s no real familiarity between this year’s Greenwood field hockey team and the last group of Wildcats to play in the final four.
In fact, there’s possibly a closer tie to the 1993 season, when the school made its first appearance in a state semifinal.
“Carrie Guarante, our assistant coach, played on that team,” veteran coach Kent Houser said. “That was my fourth year.”
Familiarity is the name of the game tonight when Greenwood takes on Newport for a spot in the final of the PIAA Class A tournament. The game begins at 7 p.m. at West Perry High School — practically home field advantage for both squads.
The close proximity of the schools — and the fact that the schools share teams through cooperative agreements — means that the girls are friends as well as opponents.
“They are, and some of them run track together, some of them play on the same club teams,” Houser said. “It’s going to be a really interesting night, and I think with the game being at West Perry it’s going to be a real exciting evening.”
Tonight’s semifinal marks the fifth meeting between these two since September; in fact, their season started with a Perry County Tournament game on the same field, one that went to penalty strokes before ending in Greenwood’s favor. They split a pair of Tri-Valley League regular-season games that same month, the first win in the series for the Buffaloes since 2014.
Newport hosted the Tri-Valley League championship after a three-way tie developed in the standings; Line Mountain — another state team, since eliminated — dropped out of that, leaving the two Perry County schools to duke it out. Greenwood won 3-0, the biggest margin between the two going back to last season (when they also met four times, including a District 3 playoff game).
“I thought that Tri-Valley game may have been the best game we played all year,” Houser said. “I thought we were just really focused and really on our game that night.”
Both teams are led by underclassmen. Greenwood’s Paityn Wirth took possession of the school’s all-time scoring record this fall as a junior, and led the TVL in goals (25) and scoring (58 points), in both cases doubling the No. 2 player on the list.
But in terms of goal scoring, the second and third best in the league both are from Newport — Olivia Muffitt (12 goals, three assists) and Rachel Bohn (11 goals, six assists). Wildcat Grace Lesh was the league’s assist leader, and also had 10 goals in TVL play.
Those offensive players will define the course of play, although Houser said it’s less about individuals than the game, a strategy that worked solidly in the quarters against Moravian Academy. The score there was close, but Greenwood dominated the ball.
“I think it’s control (of) the midfield. That’s been a lot of our game all year,” Houser said. “We’re going to have to limit the number of shots, and hopefully our backs and mids can control the game, control the flow. They’re a very good defensive team — we’ve got to find ways to score.
“If we can keep the ball out of the circle — and we’ve been doing a really good job of that — limiting the number of corners, that kind of takes care of things.”
Sophomore keeper Kelsey Sheaffer will be in the cage for Greenwood, following in the footsteps of three- and four-year starters like Nikki Willi and Katie Osborne; the latter backstopped the Wildcats to their last final four appearance. At the other end is senior Tristan Britcher, whom Houser has called one of the best goalies in their league.
“I think there’s some really good goalies in our league and I think that’s helped both our teams,” he said. “We see good goalies all through the year. She’s been playing very well, she’s really active. We’re going to have to get the ball behind her.”
Houser points out that it only gets harder when you keep playing the same team over and over, and the odds of winning can only be lower than the last time. Both schools worked hard to get here, playing three district champs between them. And the quality of the District 3 Class A bracket is evident by the fact that the top three teams are among the last four playing (Oley Valley is the third; District 2’s Wyoming Seminary is the fourth semifinalist).
“This is a big game regardless of the final four. They obviously want to beat us — it’s very evident — and they’ve worked very hard to get to this point,” Houser said. “We’re just going to have to play really well, and really hard.”