Lehighton has pipeline to UA
ALBANY On a map, the distance from Lehighton to Albany, New York is 200 miles, but it must feel a lot closer, especially for the University at Albany field hockey team.
That's because four of the 16 players on the Great Danes' roster played at Lehighton High School.
"I honestly have no idea how it happened," said senior Alysia Hough, during a recent practice at Alumni Turf Field.
Hough and fellow senior Chelsea Neff were the first Lady Indians to commit to coach Phil Sykes and they did so on consecutive days without even knowing.
"We were both pretty set on coming here," said Neff about the coincidence.
It isn't purely luck that four players, Neff, Hough, sophomore Kristi Troch and freshman Corinne McConville, from the same high school ended up playing for the Great Danes.
Sykes and Lehighton High School coach Shawn Hindy both grew up in California and played field hockey together, each representing the United States at the Pan American Games in the mid 1990s.
"It's been a good marriage between that school and this school," Sykes said.
With the quartet of Lehighton players, UAlbany is currently ranked No. 15 in the country and over the weekend captured the America East Conference Tournament. They will play Rider tonight for a berth in the 16-team NCAA Division I Tournament.
"I thought we started at a pretty good place, beating some good teams the first weekend and then slowly getting better and better," said Sykes, who admits the coaches weren't sure how good this team would be.
The Lehighton players are among some of the best.
McConville, who has scored eight goals on the year, was just named America East Rookie of the Year, becoming the second player in program history to win that award.
Despite starting just one game in goal, Troch, was named America East Goalkeeper of the Year, after allowing only eight goals in 665 minutes worth of action.
The team says chemistry is a big thing and it helps having known each other for years.
"For how small our team is, I think it just brings us closer together," Hough said. "On the field, we know what the other person is going to do."
Lehighton has not only had incredible success over the years, but the program has sent scores of girls on to play college field hockey.
"When you're younger in Lehighton, you look up to the field hockey players," Neff said. "You know all of the player's names."
While all of the former Lehighton players say their choice to come to UAlbany wasn't influenced by former teammates, it has had a positive affect.
"There are so many things you have to worry about," said Troch, about coming to college. "When you arrive and you know other people, it's easier."
The foursome from Lehighton is interesting enough, but a total of nine of the team's players are from the state of Pennsylvania.
"We outnumber everyone else," McConville joked.
That wasn't by accident.
Sykes said, when he took the job, he looked at the rosters of the top 20 teams in the country and made a stunning discovery.
Nearly 60-70 percent of those players were from the Keystone State.
"That's where the top kids are from," Sykes said.
With that in mind, he set out to recruit heavily in those areas where field hockey is strong.
Lehighton was an obvious choice.
Last season, when McConville was a senior, Lehighton went 26-0 and won the PIAA Class AA State Championship.
Sykes already had an advantage as his wife, Jen, who coaches field hockey and lacrosse at Shenendehowa High School in New York, grew up in Lancaster, Pa., and played college field hockey at East Stroudsburg University.
"There are probably five or six really good hockey clubs and most of our girls have played within those clubs," Sykes said. "If we get a recruit, they will know somebody who has been here, that's been on one of those teams."
The players, in turn, become recruiters themselves.
"We pretty much go back to our home town and tell everyone how much we love it," said McConville.
The pipeline from Lehighton isn't closed just yet. Indian senior Echo Bretz has verbally committed to attend UAlbany in the fall of 2011.
"I guess we're just lucky to come from Pennsylvania because it's such a good field hockey state," Neff said