Troch caps standout career
There are four of them. In fact there have been six over the past five years.
They played their high school field hockey for Lehighton, a town with a population of barely 6,000 residents and then they took their show on the road. Their destination was upstate New York and Division 1 University at Albany, which sits in a city of nearly 98,000 people.
And under the big city skies, Echo Bretz, Jordyn Homyak, Corrine McConville, and Kristi Troch were huge factors in Albany winning two America East Conference Tournament championships in the past three years. The four girls followed in the footsteps of Lehighton grads, Chelsea Neff and Alysia Hough who helped the Great Danes' climb to success which now totals three conference tournament titles in the past five years.
Though there are many excellent athletes that play a variety of sports in this area, it is unique that these local girls have excelled both in high school and at the Division 1 level, and at a university where field hockey is as popular as football is in other schools. According to their head coach, Phil Sykes, coming from Lehighton was not detrimental to their play at Albany.
"It seemed that every time we played a power from a big school, these girls would step up their game," said Sykes. "They were not going to be intimidated."
"What these girls bring to Albany is an outstanding work ethic and a dedication to the game that you don't normally see from girls who come from the big city schools," Sykes added. "Actually, when their teammates watched the intensity that our four Lehighton players brought to the practices and games, they realized what it takes to be a winning team."
Yet winning did not come easily for the 2012 Danes. After the first ten games this season, a bid to the NCAA tournament seemed an improbability. They were only 4-6, but then they went on a 9-1 tear to finish at 13-7 and end their regular season as the 17th ranked team in the country.
"We had a tough early schedule," said Sykes. "We were statistically crushing teams, but we just didn't score enough. Then our chemistry got better and we started to put the ball in the net much more often."
Echo Bretz was one of Sykes' players who contributed to an eight-game winning streak. In addition she scored the Danes' only goal in a 2-1 loss to Penn State in the first round of this year's NCAA tournament.
"We couldn't find a position for Echo," said Sykes. "But finally she settled in at left forward and her athletic speed added greatly to our offensive game."
Sykes added that he looks forward to next year when he hopes that Bretz, a sophomore, finishes more of her opportunities to score. "She doesn't know how good an athlete she really is," he said.
Another Albany sophomore, Jordyn Homyak, is a "ridiculous athlete and played awesome," according to Sykes. As a left defender, Homyak displayed confidence and consistency in shutting down the opponent's top scorer game after game.
"Jordyn is capable of anything," said Sykes. "Next year we look forward to her refining her skills and becoming more involved with our offensive attack."
A current junior at Albany, Corrine McConville flourished as a central defender and roamed the field to initiate offensive attacks. Sykes remarked that she makes good decisions and she is the "quarterback" of the team, distributing the ball skillfully to the forwards besides scoring key goals in big games.
"She's brings a strong competitiveness from her days at Lehighton and never backs down from anyone,'' said Sykes.
After being named America East Rookie of the Year in 2010, McConville scored 10 goals this season in addition to tallying twice in the Danes' win over New Hampshire in the conference championship game. She was named First Team Regional All American for the second year in a row.
Senior goalkeeper Kristi Troch may have been the most important link in the Lehighton to Albany chain of success this year, but her initial residency in New York's capital city was difficult, as might be expected.
"Coming to Albany from Lehighton was at first a rough transition," said Troch, "but Chelsea and Alysia, who were already there, helped me adjust. And though Albany is a big city, the athletes kind of form their own community-centered family which was a big plus too."
Troch's transition from high school to college field hockey was not an immediate success.
"I felt the pressure because everyone must have wondered how a small town girl got to be a D1 player. In fact, as a sophomore," Troch said. "I was given the privilege to play against Ohio State in the NCAA tournament. I didn't play well. We lost that game and from that point on I promised myself I would never let my team down again."
Troch completed her field hockey career at Albany this past season, but her legacy will state that she was true to her words. In a game against arch-rival Boston University, she stopped several shots in overtime when her team was down a player and then she blocked five penalty strokes to lead her team to victory. Through her four years, Troch was undefeated in games decided by shootouts. She played big in big games too. She shutout Maine in a must win game by blocking 10 shots, most of them late game saves.
"We scout our opponents' best shooters," said Troch. But I don't pay much attention to the reports. I just focus on my game."
At season's end, Troch was ranked the sixth best goalkeeper in the nation with a 1.17 GAA.
"I took it to be my responsibility to play at my top level of competitiveness each game," she remarked.
When the Danes' backup goalkeeper had to leave the team for academic reasons, Troch rose to the challenge of playing every minute of every game and never lost her focus.
Troch, who was also recruited by Temple and Syracuse before choosing to play at Albany, is the only player ever to win major awards three straight times as America East Conference Goalkeeper of the Year. Her numerous other awards include selection to the All Northeast Regional Team, the America East Conference Team and the National D1 Field Hockey Academic Squad with a 3.62 GPA. She is a five year member of the Women's National Indoor Team on which she was a gold medalist in 2008.
"I give a lot of credit to the field hockey programs in Lehighton for my success," said Troch. "I kind of jumped into the goal when I was in the seventh grade because it seemed like fun to get the balls shot at you. Then in high school I learned so much about the strategies of the game that definitely helped me play well at Albany."
Along with her three former Indian teammates, Troch appreciates the support she has received from her family and friends.
"We probably had 15 or so fans from Lehighton come to see us play Penn State in the NCAA tournament," said Coach Sykes.
After graduating this coming spring with a degree in human biology, Troch plans to attend graduate school and become a physical therapist. She also would like to be a goalkeeper coach if the opportunity presents itself. She would leave Lehighton for a good job offer, but she will always keep great memories of the town where she was born and raised.
"It's still beautiful and relaxing to just look at the countryside there," she added. "I will always call it my home."
Troch will leave the Great Danes and perhaps her hometown, but continued hockey success can be anticipated from Bretz, Homyak, and McConnvile at Albany.