Travelling to Wyoming Seminary for a recent scrimmage, the Lehighton field hockey team found the home crowd staring at them as they were warming up.
One of the girls asked coach Shawn Hindy why they were staring, he replied, "Your state champs. Everyone wants to see what you do."
Such is the life of the now-defending Mountain Valley Conference, District 11 Class AA, and PIAA Class AA State Champion Lehighton Indians.
Last season's magical run to the state title has now put a state wide target on their backs as the season begins. Each game will be the opposition's 'Super Bowl' as every team will bring their 'A'-game against Lehighton.
"Everywhere you go it is going to be like that." Hindy said. "If you relish it and use it as a positive I think it helps the girls get more pumped up for games."
They will need to.
This year's non-league schedule looks more like a championship tournament than a regular season schedule. On top of that, the ever-improving Mountain Valley Conference will provide steady challenges, including battles from heavyweights Pleasant Valley and Stroudsburg. The Indians will also have to contend with powers Penn Manor, Selinsgrove, and AAA State Champ Lower Dauphin in a late September tournament.
"Ever since I started organizing the schedule I've tried to set up the hardest games possible and we got that," said Hindy.
Their first game is Saturday against Penn Manor, a AAA powerhouse that won states in 2008 and lost in the semifinals last season.
"For me, the most important games are at the end of the year," Hindy said. "Of course we want to win them all but these games helped us win states last year."
As with any good program, the preparation is key to any success. Not just on the field but off the field and in the minds of the players.
"We're trying to do the same approach we've done every year," Hindy said. "We've been busy."
The team participated in three summer leagues, engaged in weight training program, went to camp to hone their skills.
With all of this intense work, Hindy uses his own experience to guage burnout in his team. He will turn a workout into a jog on the canal, alter practice schedules to break the monotony, and even team build by going bowling or do some pumpkin carving to keep the team fresh and willing to put forth effort.
"You have to change it up, otherwise it gets so repetitive," Hindy said.
Champions also have to contend with complacency in being at the top. Hindy, who guided the Indians to an incredible 88-8-1 record over four years, showed this year's squad the state final game one last time. After it was done he announced it was the last time it was going to be watched.
"Hopefully that clicked in their head that it is time to move on," Hindy added.
What about that bright red target on their backs that teams take aim at all season?
"We've been used to it before because in the league everyone wants to beat us. Now we obviously have the label [State Champion]."
Key offensive returnees this season will include seniors Echo Bretz (12 goals, 12 assists), who has already committed to Albany University, Jordyn Homyak, Kenzi Teno as well as junior Steph Slaw. Seniors Courtney Berger and Kacy Beck will head the defense this season.
"Our goal is the same," Hindy said. "We want to win the league, win districts, and win states, and I think we can."