HIGH SCHOOL FIELD HOCKEY

Oct. 24, 2007

Sacred Heart's reign continues

Collins scores three goals in 4-1 win over KCD in state final

By NATHAN CHAMBERS
BeyondTheDerby.com

Even after Sacred Heart won the Apple Tournament in August, one question about the Valkyries still lingered in coach Liz Lewis’ mind as she watched them on the field and considered what had been lost when 14 players graduated from the undefeated state championship team.

“Can they come together as a unit?” she wondered. “That’s what made last year’s team so special.”

She has her answer now, once and for all, after the Valkyries finished a second consecutive perfect season on Wednesday night.

Sacred Heart dominated Kentucky Country Day in the second half of the state final and rolled to a 4-1 victory in front of a paid attendance of 846 at the University of Louisville’s Trager Stadium.

“Coming in behind a state championship team, they had to find their identity,” Lewis said. “But they really came into their own.”

Sacred Heart’s Class of 2008 even did the Class of 2007 one better, winning every game at every level in its four years.

"This is a great group," senior Devanny Kuhn said, "and we've come so far since our freshman year."

“I know people looking back at this team will recognize how special it was,” senior Meredith Golden said, “and I’m really glad to be part of it.”

Sacred Heart’s two-year winning streak, which reached 54 games on Wednesday, also put Lewis on the fast track to a coaching milestone. The latest win was her 100th in four seasons and came on the same night she was named Coach of the Year in Kentucky.

“She deserves it,” Sacred Heart senior Kristen Lococo said. “She’s a great coach.”

Senior Taylor Collins scored three goals and junior Jessica Lindner had three assists for the Valkyries (26-0), who led 2-1 at halftime and then did not allow either a shot on goal or even a penalty corner in the second half.

“After we talked at halftime, they responded,” Lewis said. “That was a key this year. They always made the changes that were necessary.”

KCD (21-7-1) lost to Sacred Heart in the state final for the second straight year, falling one win short of setting a single-season team record and reaching No. 500 all-time.

“You can’t complain about bringing a team to the state final, losing nine seniors, and bringing the team to the state final again,” KCD coach Amy Charasika said. “Some people thought this would be a rebuilding year for us, but we proved them wrong.”

Taylor Collins

Lewis lauded her team’s aggressiveness in KCD’s circle, and no player epitomized that more than Collins. She attacked the goal line as if it was the last field hockey game of her life.

“It was my last game as a Valkyrie, and that’s what mattered most to me,” said Collins, who does not expect to continue her playing career in college. “I love this team, and I love this game. So I might as well play as hard as I can.”

Collins is a prolific scorer, and KCD has been a consistent target. She finished with 25 goals this season, and she scored in Sacred Heart’s 3-1 win over KCD in the 2006 state final and its 3-1 win over KCD on Aug. 21. But even her teammates noticed a difference on Wednesday.

“Taylor played an awesome game,” Kuhn said. “It was the best game I’ve ever seen her play. She just played her heart out, and I’m really proud of her.”

Collins struck first in the ninth minute, showing pinpoint hand-eye coordination as she swung her stick at a slightly raised shot from junior Olivia Miller and swatted the ball into the cage.

The Bearcats tied it on freshman Paige Henry’s goal in the 13th minute, but Collins regained the lead for Sacred Heart on a corner less than five minutes later. A series of passes sent the ball from junior Kristen Henn to senior Kathryn Denbow to Miller to senior Hannah English, who then fired a shot that KCD junior goalie Sarah Anderson (4 saves) stopped several feet in front of the right post. But Lindner pushed the rebound left to Collins, who tapped it past a diving Anderson for a 2-1 lead.

Kuhn gave the Valkyries a little breathing room with a goal in the 15th minute of the second half. Collins then finished off the Bearcats when she scored off a broken corner with less than three minutes left; a shot from Lindner caught her stick, and she put it between Anderson’s legs with a reverse flick.

“Taylor is a very driven, competitive young woman,” Lewis said. “This was her last high school game, and I think that was added incentive for her. But she always comes up big in big games.”

Kentucky Country Day

Charasika was looking for aggressiveness, too, and she saw it from her players in the first half.

On the offensive end, for instance, KCD put three shots on Golden, and Henry’s goal - her 16th of the season - came out of a scrum in front of the cage after senior Gray Robinson sent a free hit into the circle.

“They had us back on our heels a couple times,” Lewis said.

In the final minute of the half, senior Christy Chapman sent another free hit into the circle, and the ball found its way into the cage. But the officials waved if off, ruling that Chapman’s hit had been lifted and that it struck only a Sacred Heart defender’s leg en route.

“I think that (goal) would have made a difference for us emotionally,” Charasika said.

As it happened, the Bearcats were thoroughly outplayed in the second half. Sacred Heart finished with a 14-2 advantage in corners and an 8-3 advantage in shots.

“Overall, the kids did a great job,” Charasika said. “I don’t think the score reflected how well we stayed in the game. But we needed to play much more aggressively in the second half.”

Senior Christena Burell, a Miami (Ohio) University recruit who broke KCD’s single-season goal-scoring record this season, agreed.

“We didn’t use our momentum to our advantage, and I regret that,” she said.

Win or lose, Charasika and her staff still were staring at the departures of nine more seniors, including three - Burell, Chapman and Robinson - who were integral parts of both state finalist teams.

“I always believe KCD will have a strong program," Charasika said. "We have dedicated, motivated and talented young ladies that are ready to compete."

Meredith Golden

TopOfTheCircle.com’s Al Mattei left Sacred Heart off his preseason national top 10 in August, and Brittany Miller was the reason. That is to say, Brittany Miller - an “all-everything goalkeeper,” as he called her - was gone.

Miller, Sacred Heart’s starting goalie for three years, was named a Penn Monto/National Field Hockey Coaches Association High School All-American last year before becoming Michigan State’s No. 2 goalie.

Her graduation in May left Sacred Heart’s cage to Golden, who did no less than post 14 shutouts and surrender just 10 goals this season. Along the way, the Valkyries climbed to No. 7 in TopOfTheCircle.com’s national rankings.

“Meredith did a phenomenal job this year,” Lewis said. “Following in Brittany's footsteps was difficult because her playing time last year was limited. However, she stepped up and filled the role beautifully.”

Golden gave Lewis a scare during the team’s warm-up on Wednesday, when a teammate’s shot struck her right patella and caused swelling.

“I was really upset because I thought I’d be out for the final,” Golden said.

But she still gave the Valkyries 60 minutes in the cage.

“She played through the pain and played a tough game,” Lewis said. “Her mental toughness is one of her biggest assets.”

Otherwise, Golden would have missed the most significant game of her high school career.

“It feels like I really played a role this time, and that feels great,” she said.

Liz Lewis

Sacred Heart had been very competitive before Lewis returned to her alma mater as an assistant coach under Lainey Habeeb in 2002, even winning the state title one year earlier.

Within her four seasons as head coach, however, Lewis has built the team into a superpower rivaling any the sport has seen locally in years. The Valkyries have not lost any regular-season games against Kentucky teams and have won all but four of their 104 games overall.

That success, in turn, has made Lewis - who was a middle school coach before 2002 - a luminary among her peers. She was voted the Dita/NFHCA High School West Region Coach of the Year after last season, and she is the Coach of the Year in Kentucky for the second time.

“To receive Coach of the Year from my peers is a tremendous honor,” she said. “I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge (assistant coach) Katie Deskins and her contributions to the program. In fact, my entire coaching staff played a significant role in our success.”

Her 100th career win came so quickly that she didn’t even notice it was imminent until the night before the state final.

“I was going over the game plans, and my husband (Danny) informed me of that to add a little more pressure,” she said. “But I was more concerned about winning the game to win the state championship.”

Of course, the possibilities - and the pressure - do not end there. Another huge senior class, 16 strong this time, will be gone next season. But the three remaining starters - Henn, Lindner and Miller - will give Lewis three of the best, if not the best, players in Kentucky for a run at a third straight title.

“I can’t wait,” Lindner said. “I’m excited already.”

All-Tournament Teams

FIRST TEAM: Sacred Heart's Jennifer Bohnert, Taylor Collins, Meredith Golden and Devanny Kuhn; Kentucky Country Day's Christena Burell, Kelly Hedgspeth and Sydney White; Ballard's Kelsey Rothberg and Lara Williams; Collegiate's Ellen Bruenderman and Liz Ratliff; Assumption's Lauren Schmeing; Christian Academy's Ellen West; Manual's Hannah Boyer; Mercy's Mary Alice Pierce.

SECOND TEAM: Sacred Heart's Hannah English, Kristen Henn, Jessica Lindner and Olivia Miller; Kentucky Country Day's Molly Dobbins, Paige Henry and Gray Robinson; Ballard's Anna Miller and Brittany Ried; Collegiate's Hannah Bruenderman and Sarah Jessee; Assumption's Jennifer McGill; Christian Academy's Haley Jurich; Manual's Katie Weddington; Mercy's Katie Norris.

Rachel Caroline Baker Award

Ballard senior Katie Rothberg was selected from a group of 11 nominees to receive the Rachel Caroline Baker Award, which honors the memory of a former Manual student-athlete who died in automobile accident at the age of 16.

The other nominees were Assumption’s Lauren Weir, Collegiate’s Caroline Goldstein, Eastern’s Lisa Settle, KCD’s Kelly Hedgspeth, Male’s Jen Seewer, Manual’s Kaitlin Schumate, Mercy’s Erin Schneidtmiller, Presentation’s Jamie Mullett, Sacred Heart’s Laura Hammer and St. Francis’ Claire Johnson.