WHS girls hope to ‘Connect’ on high expectations in 2011
For two straight years, the first round of the District Three Triple-A playoffs has proven to be a hurdle for the Warwick field hockey team.
First, it was Hempfield that beat the Lady Warriors 2-1 in 2009. Then last year, the WHS girls drew a tough opening-round match-up against Hershey and suffered a hard-fought 2-1 loss. With that, Warwick ended its season at 11-8.
The good news for the Lady Warriors, though, is that most of their team is returning this fall after graduating only two senior starters — Bethany Ashworth and Mady Hershey.
As the Warwick girls prepare to open their season this Friday and Saturday with a pair of tough non-league games against Oley Valley and Central Dauphin, they do so with high expectations.
Earlier this week, Lititz Record Sports Editor sat down with coach Bob Derr (503-112-9 in 28 years) to discuss the upcoming season. The following is a transcript of their conversation.
Bruce Morgan: How is the squad looking so far?
Bob Derr: We’re taking one step at a time. What I mean by that is, our first week was simply to get fundamentals in and get that taught and then build from the fundamentals up. Then we had a scrimmage on Tuesday with Downingtown East and we just played small 20-minute games and they looked really good. We played three 20-minute periods and scored eight goals and had none against. Then we went into a 15-minute overtime and that went 1-1. That was just to let us see what we can and cannot do and find some weaknesses and we looked pretty good. But again, you don’t know, ‘OK, how good is Downingtown East right now?’ Usually, they are pretty good, but you never know. Then we came back here on Saturday and I knew that we were playing traditionally strong teams. We had Wyoming Seminary, who are the returning Double-A state champions. We had Palmyra, who’s always traditionally a strong team, and C.B. South, who has been a very strong program in the past decade, and then Wilson and they are always one of the top Triple-A teams in Berks County. So with that being said, we played them and we won all four games and finished scoring 13 goals and none against. On the offensive end, we’re getting in on the cage, so I’m really impressed on what we’re doing there and we’re looking good. However, when I looked at the film and some things stood out that I did not recognize in the game, so we need to address that. And I think this team will. I’m really pleased with this team. The seniors are doing a great job of leading the team and the underclassmen are doing their role really well and they’re following. They’re loving the game. But we’ve got some things that we need to take care of. The film definitely showed me some things and we’re going to address that between now and Thursday so that we’re ready for two tough games on Friday and Saturday.
BM: What are some of the things you feel like you still need to address?
BD: The thing we saw on the film was Roll One defense. Our body position is really high and our stick is not on the ground and out in front of us. So we have to get into better body position, one, and then we’ve got to be a little bit more patient. We want to give ourselves a good opportunity to win the ball and not get so over-anxious. You want to be aggressive, but you want to be aggressive in a position where you have an opportunity to win the ball.
BM: There’s some expectations for this team this year. It sounds like there are a lot of people predicting Warwick to be one of the top teams in the League. How are you handling that so far?
BD: We’re just taking a low profile (laughing), keeping the kids honest, and keeping them to the point, where, ‘You’re only as good as your last victory and you need to keep striving to be better.’ As a coaching staff, we have to do our job and keep encouraging them and keep it positive, but at the same time, keep nit-picking on the little things because it’s going to be the little things that are going to beat you in the end. But they have put themselves in a position to do well in that their credo this year is, ‘Connect.’ And that’s what they’re doing. They’re connecting in all ways, shapes and forms. They’re connecting with their teammates, they’re connecting passes on the field, they’re connecting by communicating on the field offensively and doing that defensively and that’s what is going to keep them unified. If they can stay unified together and keep things positive, at the same time though keep each person accountable and responsible not only for their ability but their behavior and taking ownership on the team, then they’ve got something. The talent is there. But you’ve got to love the game and you’ve got to do it together.
BM: You only lost two seniors from last year in Bethany Ashworth and Mady Hershey. But how concerned are you about replacing the goals that Bethany scored?
BD: Bethany did a great job at left wing and coming in from that left side, which is a scoring position. One thing that Bethany had which we’re going to miss, she was just so quick. Her first step off the ball was very quick, so she could make a move and just eliminate defenders very fast. And she had a quick stick, so we’re going to miss that. Then on the defensive, Mady was a very strong defender and probably a defender that can be overlooked a lot because she just does her job and that’s it. Nothing flashy. She just intercepts the pass, makes the tackle, distributes the ball and that it. There’s no hoopla about what she did. But she did that job very well. So we’re going to miss her on the defensive end. But we’ve got kids that are stepping up. They’re doing nice.
BM: Can you talk about some of those girls who are stepping up?
BD: There’s a ton of them that are looking really good. Right now, the senior class is looking good leading, but each of them of are doing their job, starting with our two senior forwards Marissa Lutz and Emma Rissinger. At midfield, we have (Alyssa) Manley and (Jen) Stipe, two strong midfielders that are returning. Then the backs are Emily (Harting), Jenica (Miller) and Kayla (Laughman). We have Bethany Han at midfield also and Alexis Charles in the goal. So we’re bringing a lot back from last year and they’re much more mature and much stronger in their ability. But I think the most important thing, like I said earlier, is that they are connected together and they are invested in this team. And I think that’s going to take them a long way. Others that are looking good (among) underclassmen — we’ve got three juniors and that’s it — we have Autumn Hess, Kiersten Cepeda and Ericka Griffith. They’re doing a great job also just joining in with the team and doing the work ahead of time. They’re very fit and their skills are much better than what they were last year. Two sophomores that are looking good for us are Liz Wenger and Courtney Weaver. Liz has a concussion, so she hasn’t practiced for over a week. So we’re a little concerned — I’m sure she’s going to lose a little bit of fitness, but we’re anxious for her to get back on the field. But (Liz) and Courtney Weaver are looking really good. And then we have two freshmen that are working with us — Jamie Martin and Marleise Emrhein. They’re doing really well. That freshmen class is a very talented class and they also bring a great love and enthusiasm for the game. Between the two bookends of the freshmen and the seniors, the sophomores and juniors are doing a great job. Everyone is just connecting so well together. It’s really a pleasure as far as coaching them. It makes coaching fun and a lot easier.
BM: Are there any girls that are really standing out for you right now, any surprises since you started pre-season practices?
BD: I think at this point, no. They’re all doing a great job of working together. Sure, it’s nice when you have some teams that you have that one particular player who can do it all. It’s almost like Jill Witmer from Penn Manor or Laura Gebhart from Donegal. We don’t have that individual, but we have a lot of players out there that just play well together. If they continue to do that and forget about the ‘I’ and just think of ‘we’ and ‘team,’ they will do really well.
BM: Do you feel like you have the girls to handle the goal scoring for the team?
BD: Yes, I think we do. Right now, we’re scoring a lot of goals. Again, it’s scrimmages, but everything changes once you start that first non-league game. Now it’s a game. In a scrimmage – win, lose, or tie – it’s important, but it’s not all that important because you’re trying things and you’re trying different people. But when you start the actual games, and I can guarantee when we begin the league season the following Wednesday (Sept. 8) and we go up against Hempfield, that’s going to be a war. That’s going to be a war because you’ve got that first league game (in front of you) and you want to get out on top and that will be even tougher. No matter who the teams are, they’re going to play hard because now it’s league competition. I’m anxious for the games to begin, but our first four games, just like last year, they are going to be tough. There’s Oley Valley, who won 16 or 17 league titles in a row, and you’ve got Central Dauphin, who got to the State quarterfinals last year. Then you have Hempfield, who also got to the State quarterfinals, and then Lower Dauphin, who also got to the State quarterfinals. So we have a heck of a schedule in the first four games. If we can come out 4-0-0 through those first four, then we’re definitely a team that needs to be reckoned with. Anything below that, then it’s going to be a battle and things can happen. But even if we’re like 3-1, it still puts a statement out there. But our goal is to be 4-0, and if we’re 4-0, boy, then we did a heck of a job on four very strong competitors.
BM: Do you feel like you’re stronger in any one part of the field — forwards, midfielders, defense, goalie — or do you like the balance?
BD: I think we’ve got good balance on offense and defense. We’re going to a three-back system compared to a four-back system, and we did that because we felt we had three backs that could handle it. And we do. Our three backs are returning from last year. The three are seniors, they’re good leaders, they’re good hard workers, good communicators and there’s not going be too much that are going to get through them. Then we have Alexis in the goal cage coming back. So we’re strong on the defensive end. With the new system we’re playing, the midfield is going to have to work a little bit harder because they’re going to have to be able to run from end line to end line. They’re going to be challenged physically and mentally. It’s a 4-3-3 (system). We have four forwards and we play the forwards a little funky. But they know what they’re going to do. We tried it down at team camp and they didn’t like it the first day, but then after that, they started liking it. They’re learning it and they’re learning the system and it’s working for them right now. But they’ve got to stay tuned to their responsibilities. They’re looking good.
BM: You have five girls who have verbally committed to Division One schools already?
BD: Yes, five have committed — Emma Rissinger (Maryland), Bethany Han (Ball State), Alyssa Manley (Syracuse), Kayla Laughman (Temple) and Emily Harting (Old Dominion University). They’ve given verbal commitments.
BM: That’s says something about the caliber of players you have too, doesn’t it?
BD: Oh yes, they’ve definitely done the work. They’re great kids. It’s going to be an interesting season. I think it’s going to be fun, but it’s going to be competitive. I’m anxious, but there’s things we’ve got to take care of. After watching the game film, there were some things that stuck out like a sore thumb. But I think if they stay positive on that and bring the work ethic and bring the love and passion of the game, they’re going to fine.
BM: Scoring-wise, do you see a balanced attack or do you see one or two girls stepping up right now?
BD: Right now, it’s been pretty balanced. The goals that we had were scored between eight different people on Saturday. That’s pretty good.
BM: What are your impressions of Section One right now?
BD: Section One is always a dog fight. Even those years that we had a good run for awhile finishing as Section One champs and stuff, I’m hoping we can do that again this year, but it’s a dog fight and it’s tough. You’re just so beat by the end of the Section tournament and then you go into the League tournament which is no piece of cake either. It’s just tough because we just kill each other, and you’re playing each other twice — that’s tough on the kids. You don’t get any break. There’s no easy game that you can go out there and say, ‘OK, we’ve got this one.’ You’ve got to come out strong and hard right from the get-go because if you don’t, they’ll take advantage of it and pop a couple of goals in on you and now you’re trying to come from behind. That’s not fun.
BM: Obviously, a lot of people are going to be picking you at or near the top. Who do you see as being the other teams standing in your way?
BD: I think right now, if you go by personnel and what they have, Penn Manor and Hempfield definitely have to be mentioned. They’ve got good, strong personnel coming back and some good talented people. They should definitely be pretty strong. With Penn Manor, there’s an exchange student coming in for them from Holland, so that’s going to definitely help them too. When you’ve got someone coming in from a country that their number one sport is field hockey, that’s going to definitely help them a good bit. And you can’t snooze on the rest of them. E-town and Township, if you start snoozing on them and CV … And then of course, going from turf to grass is tough. When you’ve got to play Conestoga Valley away and E-town away, that’s going to be a tough game on the grass. On the turf, I feel a little bit more comfortable, but on the grass, anything can happen. Those games, anyone can win on a given day, so you’ve got to do the work and you’ve got to come prepared.
BM: How far can this team go this year?
BD: I hope further than the first round of Districts. The past two years, that has been very heartbreaking. Both teams had the capability to go further. Two years ago, we should have never lost that game. They put themselves in position that they should have won. Then last year, we had a bad pre-season and lost almost all our non-league games. So we ended up with a bad record going in, so we had a bad seed and ended up playing Hershey in the first round and that was a battle. That game could have gone either way. But we didn’t put ourselves in a good position to move on. So hopefully we can do better this year because our non-league schedule is the same. More LADY WARRIORS, page B-6