Area field hockey players help win Keystone State Games title

During the high school season, Mount St. Joseph’s and Gwynedd Mercy Academy’s field hockey teams are the fiercest of rivals.

This past weekend in York, a handful of Mount and GMA players saw when they work together, they can be pretty effective too. Six GMA and Mount players joined with 10 others from Montgomery, Berks, Lebanon and Lancaster counties on the Blue Mountain team to win the Scholastic Commonwealth Division of the Keystone State Games, played at Dallastown High School.

Terry Merkle of Ambler served as the team’s coach while his daughter Taylor, who attends the Mount, was on the team.

“That’s kind of where the story is at, the Keystone Games are about fostering the respect that you get for the other players,” Merkle said. “You know people on the other teams and respect people on the other teams so it’s not just bitter rivalries. It’s a chance for rivals to come together.”

Other local players included GMA standout Megan DuVernois, Monarchs teammates Kaitlin McCauley and Christina Motz and Wissahickon’s Jessica Waite. Ava Self and Taylor Gray were the other representatives from Mount St. Joseph’s.

The Scholastic Division is for athletes entering their junior and senior years in high school and while the team could carry 16 players, Merkle and assistant coach Gwen McCauley only had six players at their first tryout. Eventually, they got the team filled out and thanks to some turf time at Christopher Dock, got a practice in.

Despite the fact many of the players had never been on the same team, the group meshed very well from the start.

“They really came together,” Merkle said. “Even the girls that knew each other had never really played together. At this level, the more advanced high school, most of the teams play a similar way so it doesn’t take that long to adjust to.”

The event structure featured pool play with the two group winners playing for the championship. The Blue Mountain team went undefeated through the tournament, winning every pool game to advance to the final against the Capital team, featuring players from the Harrisburg area.

In the final, Blue Mountain played its best game, posting a 5-0 score to win the tournament. After an early penalty stroke, the team took a four-goal lead by halftime and rolled from there.

“There was no doubt about it that by that last game we were pretty much a well oiled machine,” Merkle said. “It did come together very quickly.”

Merkle also noted that his group bonded very fast. In between their games, they stayed as a group and talked instead of branching off to the other events going on around the Dallastown campus. They didn’t branch off into groups and their closeness showed in their play.

While the team was put together like an all-star team, it didn’t play like one. The offense quickly proved potent and the defense was just as stout to match, posting a number of shutouts.
There was next to no selfish play either, and every player was a willing passer on the offensive end.

“It was a very well balanced team,” Merkle said. “A lot of that had to do with the offense being so strong. We controlled the ball and had a lot of the ball on the other end of the field so it didn’t put a lot of heat on our defense.”

In recent years, the Keystone Games have lost some of their luster, with club teams and player identification camps gaining in popularity. But Merkle said he got an email from a college coach asking about one of the players he coached, so there’s still value in the event.

“There’s still people there watching and recruiting,” Merkle said. “There are over 25 sports in the Keystone Games. I don’t think they advertise it enough or get the word out there.”

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