By SHAWN MCFARLAND
Last year the Lehighton field hockey team captured the school's first ever state championship.
Saturday night, the Lady Indians will try to bring home their second in a row.
Lehighton will match up against Wyoming Seminary, the No. 2 seed from District 2, in the PIAA Class AA state final Saturday morning at 11 a.m. at Whitehall High School.
The Indians (22-3) are somewhat familiar with the Blue Knights (24-2). The two teams scrimmaged each other before the start of the season, but as Lehighton head coach Shawn Hindy pointed out that was a long time ago.
"We scrimmaged them before the beginning of the year, so we have seen them before," said Hindy. "But it has been almost three months already. At the time they didn't have that German guy on their team. I'm sure some things have changed since then."
The "German guy" that Hindy referred to is Cornelius Tietze, a German exchange student that has been allowed to participate on Wyoming Seminary's team. Whereas Pleasant Valley recently had a boy on its field hockey team, Tietze has had a major greater impact on his team's success than the player for Pleasant Valley ever did. The junior netted hat tricks in each of Wyoming Seminary's first two state playoff games and even helped the Blue Knight's rebound from a two-goal deficit in one contest by scoring twice within three minutes.
Tietze's play has sparked some controversy. To this point there has been no ruling against him being allowed to play. Hindy, who participates on the USA Men's Field Hockey Team himself, does not think it is right for a boy to be playing amongst girls.
"Personally, I think it is wrong," said Hindy. "I was on a men's team and we played against other men. We did have some co-ed competitions, but they were just for fun.
"Either way, our girls will be ready to play and we will go out and play hard. I play against the girls every day in practice. I know I am better than (Tietze), so if they can play defense against me then they can play defense against him. We will just have to be more aware on defense and have people on him at all times."
Regardless of the opponent, Lehighton will be concentrating on itself. The Indians will have the luxury of having some familiarity with the situation since they played in the state championship last season. That alone gives them an advantage before the game even starts.
"I think it helps a lot," said Hindy. "It helps just knowing the process that we are going to have to go through.
"Things like how to prepare, how to handle the ride there and how to handle a large crowd. It's nice to have done it before. Any time you are more relaxed in a situation in helps."
Although the Indians are back in the state championship for the second straight year, there has been quite a turnover in players from last year's squad. Lehighton lost last year's Mountain Valley Conference MVP in Corrine McConville only to create another in Jordyn Homyak. Also gone are Abby Frey, Vanessa Rimbey and goalie Sarah Snyder.
However, players such as Rachel Werley, Echo Bretz, Sarah Keer, Kacy Beck and goalie Kristina Schnell have filled in nicely and have made the Indians state-champion quality once again.
"This year's group has always had their doubts about being able to repeat," Hindy said. "We had huge expectations from last year with us going undefeated and all. The girls have done a good job of focusing on this year. It's like our warm-up shirts say, 'New year. New team. Same dream.'
"Before the season we watched the tape of the state championship and talked about it afterward. Once we were done talking, that was it. We weren't going to talk about it anymore. We were going to move on and I think the girls have done that."
While this year's team is different, the satisfaction of winning another state championship will not change if the Indians are fortunate enough to do it again.
"It's been more difficult this time around," admitted Hindy. "Everyone was gunning for us and we have been able to deal with it.
"I am proud of the girls. Yeah we lost a couple of games, but we played a lot of tough opponents. We won't go undefeated, but we still have a chance to get to where we want to get to."