It's obvious when talking to Echo Bretz that family is very important.

Whether she's thanking parents Coleen and Kenny for all their support during her nationwide field hockey travels, mentioning sister Brittni as a role model and idol, or talking about the special bond she enjoys with her Lehighton coaches and teammates, Bretz uses the word family over and over.

Bretz credited all of those close bonds with her development from a third-grader picking up a stick for the first time to being named the 2010 TIMES NEWS Field Hockey Player of the Year.

But according to Indian coach Shawn Hindy, the biggest reason Bretz developed into one of the best players in Lehighton's storied field hockey history wasn't any of those things. It was Bretz herself.

"Echo is a tremendously dedicated player," said Hindy. "She will do whatever is needed to make herself a better player.

"She wants to win and works hard to make sure that happens."

This year, as a senior, that will to win not only meant Bretz doing everything in her power to make herself a better player, but making sure her teammates were doing the same thing.

"Echo is a proven leader," said Hindy. "She wasn't satisfied with winning a State Championship as a junior. She wanted to do it again as a senior. Echo and our other seniors took it upon themselves to make sure everyone on our team was aware that we weren't lowering our goals this year. She made sure that everyone was 100 percent committed. That's what a great leader does."

Bretz said taking over the leadership role was a natural progression for her and her classmates.

"I tried to be a leader by both my actions and my words this year," said Bretz. "When we came in as freshmen, the seniors on our team were just unbelievably helpful. They made sure we all understood the tradition of the Lehighton field hockey program and that we all felt like part of the team.

"That's what we tried to do this year. We had 10 freshmen on the team and they had to be made aware of what it means to be a Lehighton field hockey player. That had to be done on and off the field. We're one big family and everyone has to feel part of it. That's how the tradition is continued."

Bretz actually knew all about the Indian field hockey tradition before she even entered high school.

She learned it by watching older sister Brittni play for the Indians.

"Brittni is six years older than me and when she was playing high school field hockey I went to all her games," said Echo. "They had some pretty good teams. They won league and district championships and reached the final four of the state playoffs.

"I guess you could say that Brittni was my field hockey idol when I was young. I watched how hard she worked and the success she enjoyed and I wanted that as well."

But Echo wasn't satisfied with someday being as good as her sister a tall order since Brittni received a field hockey scholarship to Temple and went on to have an outstanding college career. No, Echo wanted more.

"I told her since I was young that I was going to be a better player than her," Echo laughed. "We still argue about who the better player is. When she gets home, we will still go outside and play against each other a little bit. It's a lot of fun and we both enjoy trying to impress each other."

Echo has definitely done her best to impress her big sister and everyone else for that matter.

This season, she scored 18 goals and had 12 assists to lead the Indians to a 22-4 record, Mountain Valley Conference and District 11 Class AA championships, and a second-place finish in the state tournament. Next fall, she will attend the University at Albany on a field hockey scholarship. In the meantime, she has earned a spot on the United States Women's Indoor field hockey team, one of just 30 players in the entire nation to be selected for the team.

"Echo was outstanding the entire season," said Hindy. "But she was at an even higher level in the playoffs.

"She relished playing in the big games."

She also relished an undeniable upper hand in the friendly sibling rivalry with her sister.

"We still might not be able to agree on who the better player is, but I have a state championship," Echo laughed. "Brittni is definitely impressed with that and probably a little envious as well."

The field hockey season that Bretz just turned in has left everyone impressed.