KENNETT SQUARE – For the first time in many years, the Kennett field hockey squad has a postseason milestone to celebrate. And in a lot of ways, it’s the culmination of an effort that began years ago when a youth feeder program was established.
On Monday evening, the Blue Demons blanked visiting Octorara, 2-0, in the District 1 Class 2A Tournament action, and now advance to Wednesday’s second round.
“It’s never happened before to my knowledge,” said head coach Meghan Shumway Avellino, who is in here 11th season at the helm.
“This is the first (district win) since I’ve been here. This is an amazing feeling.”
According to Shumway Avellino, her high school program is feeling the positive effects of the Blue Demons Recreation League, which has been introducing the game to elementary school-age kids — like freshman Emma Schwarz — for the last four or five years.
“We have a youth program now and it’s really starting to develop our players,” she said. “That grass-roots program has been amazing and you can start to see it showing in our high school players. That will be important heading into the future.”
A midfielder, Schwarz started playing field hockey as a sixth grader. The exposure helped her go into Kennett Middle School more prepared. After playing two years at that level, she came to the Kennett High School much further ahead than players who never had the chance to start at such a young age.
“This program has struggling in the past, but we are getting better,” Schwarz said.
Despite her youth, Schwarz played a major role in helping the Blue Demons avenge a regular season setback to Octorara, 4-2, on the Braves’ grass playing surface. Schwarz helped set up the game-winner in the first half and then notched a second half insurance goal on an unassisted blast from nearly 20 yards out.
“We were missing Emma the first time we played (Octorara), and it also really helped playing on our home field turf,” explained Shumway Avellino. “We have come a long way the last few weeks. We’ve developed as a team and the pieces are falling together.”
Now 7-11-1 overall, 15th seeded Kennett will be on the road to take on No. 2 Mt. St. Joseph on Wednesday. The 18th seeded Braves end their season at 6-12-1.
“A lot of the Rec League players were here so they can see what their future can be like,” Schwarz pointed out. “Hopefully they can get even better in future years.”
The Blue Demons came out swinging and nearly took a very early lead when Meredith Krieger’s shot was saved by Braves’ keeper Maggie DeStephano, and the follow had to be pushed aside by defender Megan Priddy.
About four minutes later, however, Kennett did take the lead when sophomore Stephanie Oleykowski scored on another rebound after an initial shot from Schwarz off a corner.
“We had more passing, less dribbling, and we were getting the ball to open spaces,” Oleykowski said. “It led to quite a few scoring opportunities.”
The Braves best, and last, prime scoring chance came with just over nine minutes on the clock off a corner. The Demons clogged up the middle, thwarting several shot attempts, and the final try went wide of the cage.
“We had a hard time getting scoring opportunities,” said Octorara head coach Jalisa Torres. “Our corners, for some reason, weren’t working out. For some reason was that the balls were a bit bouncy and we had trouble controlling them.”
With just over three minutes remaining and off a restart, Schwarz delivered a long-range laser that somehow found its way between a host of defenders, teammates and finally, DeStephano.
“It was a powerful shot and it found the corner,” Shumway Avellino said.
“I just took it quick,” Schwarz added. “I’ve tried other shots from that distance but never scored before. I was just looking for a tip and I was surprised it made it through.”
Kennett goalie Claire Borman only faced three shots on goal and turned them all away.
“We’ve struggled most of this season scoring goals and being able to finish,” Shumway Avellino said. “That is kind of the last piece because we’ve been playing well on defense.
“The communication has opened up on the defensive end. They are coming up with some great block tackles, just staying low and playing more disciplined hockey. And it’s showing.”
For Torres and her team, it was the final appearance as a member of the Ches-Mont league. Octorara is moving to the Lebanon-Lancaster League for the 2018-19 academic year.
“I like the Ches-Mont league – it’s kind of in my comfort zone,” said Torres, who played at Oxford. “It will be a bit of an adjustment, but we are excited to see what the future holds for us.”
The Blue Demons, of course, aren’t going anywhere as far as league affiliation, but the field hockey program is moving up.
“It’s just so much fun winning,” Schwarz said. “We’ve put so much work into it and it’s great to have it all pay off.”
Kennett 2, Octorara 0
Octorara 0 0 –0
Kennett 1 1 — 2
Kennett goals: Oleykowski, Schwarz.
Goalie saves: DeStephano (O) 10; Borman (K) 3.
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