WHITEHALL – Everything seemed to be in order for back-to-back gold medals.
Once again the Lehighton girls field hockey team defied the odds and reached the PIAA AA State Championship game with eerily the same credentials.
The tough regular season schedule prepared Lady Indians to excel in the post-season; they captured the MVC and District 11 Championships once again; and, they had reached the finals by shutting out all of their opponents in the state tournament.
The ending would still be tearful, but these tears were quite different. The Lady Indians were forced to settle for silver as Wyoming Seminary captured its fourth state title with a 5-0 win.
"Lehighton is a tremendous team. I've known Shawn (Hindy) for a long time and we've scrimmaged them earlier in the season," Seminary coach Karen Klassner said after capturing her 549th win as a coach. "They were defending state champions so we knew we had to bring our A-game today to beat them."
"I'm still extremely proud of these girls. We did all we could do," Lehighton coach Shawn Hindy said. "We just ran into a unique situation."
Lehighton (22-4) and the entire Whitehall sports complex had their eyes on German import Cornelius Tietze the only boy on the field. But it was AshLehigh Sebia that grabbed the spotlight.
The junior forward figured into all of the scoring as she pounded the back of the net four times while also adding an assist.
"AshLeigh Sebia is a tremendous player and sometimes doesn't get credit for it," Klassner said. "Today she was really finishing and it's a pretty good to do that."
A stick obstruction set up the first goal. Tietze took the corner pass and moved the ball to midfielder Jess Swoboda whose quick pass to the front of the net was sent home by Sebia for a 1-0 first half lead.
The Blue Knights, who won the state title in 2008, put the game away with a flurry of goals to begin the second half. Capitalizing on a turnover, Tietze rushed the net, passed to Sebia who tapped it to Kristin Mericle and a wide open net for her second goal just 40 seconds in and a 2-0 lead.
"We didn't play too well in the beginning and started playing better towards the end of the first half," Hindy said. "They got that goal early in the second half and that took the wind out of our sails."
Just two minutes later Sebia tore the hearts out of the Lady Indians by putting her second goal into the net and a 3-0 lead.
Lehighton's offense struggled to get things going as the Seminary defense forced errant passes, foiling attempts by senior scorers Echo Bretz, Jordyn Homyak, and sophomore Sarah Keer to get Lehighton back into the game.
"Our defense has been good all season long and one thing we tell them is that 'defense wins championships'," Klassner said.
Down 3-0, Lehighton tried to get some momentum, pressuring the Seminary defense into some mistakes. After missing on two corners and a pair of opportunities in front of the Seminary net, the Indians were burned by a Wyoming Seminary counter attack as Sebia struck again. Sebia's pass was deflected high off a Lehighton defender's stick and over the outstretched arms of keeper Kristina Schnell.
As the minutes wound down, Hindy cleared the bench to give the rest of his team playing time in the state title game. Sebia scored her fourth goal in the final minutes of the game.
"It was a hard game. We came out psyched and ready but it was just their game today," senior fullback Courtney Berger said. "I thought we played with a lot of heart. The whole team stepped up their game this year."
After losing seven seniors and five starters from last year's state championship team it would have been easy to say that Lehighton would fail to get this far. This team did everything but fail.
Despite three regular season losses to the state's best competition the Lady Indians were the first team to play in back-to-back state finals since Crestwood did in 2003.
"To make it back to the state championship game, it's pretty awesome," Hindy said. "It shows the girl's character and work ethic and how we do things."