Gwynedd Mercy’s Alaina McVeigh is The Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery Media 2021 Field Hockey Player of the Year

For Alaina McVeigh, there’s nothing better than scoring a goal.

“I play forward at WC Eagles and that’s what I love to do,” she said. “Putting the ball in the back of the net it’s the best feeling in the world so it’s what I try to do all the time.”

And in the state of Pennsylvania, there was nobody better than sending the ball into the cage than the sensational Gwynedd Mercy Academy senior. McVeigh, the 2021 The Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery Media Player of the Year in Field Hockey scored an astounding 71 goals as the Monarchs won the District 1-2A title and reached the PIAA championship game for the first time in 25 years.

“I wasn’t really shooting for anything,” said McVeigh of her goal total. “I was just focusing on winning this year so I think it just comes with how well our team did that I was able to score that many. And I was getting good passes from people, just getting good opportunities to score.”

McVeigh – who has committed to Duke University and is on United States women’s national indoor team – easily surpassed her school record of 43 goals she set as a sophomore with the 55 she tallied in this year’s regular season. She added another 16 goals in the postseason to help lead GMA to a 20-3-1 record, claim its first district title since 2016, earn its first PIAA victory since 2014 and advance to the state final for the first time since 1996.

Gwynedd Mercy’s Alaina McVeigh (14) sends the ball upfield during the Monarchs’ District 1-2A quarterfinal against West Chester East on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

“I think it was just a really special team and group of people,” McVeigh said. “I think, actually, even not ending the way the way that we wanted to when I think back on it, all I can think of is how proud of everyone for how we went and how we worked the whole season and I think it was the most fun year of high school field hockey for me because we just all really wanted it.”

Along with her 71 goals, McVeigh dished out 25 assists to have a hand in close to 60 percent (58.5) of the offensive production for the high-scoring Monarchs, who totaled 164 goals in 24 games – an average of 6.8 per contest.

After sitting at 3-2-0 following a 3-2 loss to Villa Maria Sept. 17, Gwynedd Mercy went unbeaten in their next 18 games – 17 of those were wins, the lone tie coming against Villa Maria 1-1 Oct. 7 – to reach the PIAA-2A final. McVeigh scored twice in the title game as the Monarchs were edged by District 3 champ Twin Valley 3-2 Nov. 20 at Whitehall High School.

“I think our first Villa game we were kind of maybe a little hesitant and maybe a little nervous out there,” McVeigh said. “But as the season went on, that really went away and mostly cause of our team culture we were building each other up, we were helping each other out on the field and if someone made a mistake we’d be like ‘It’s fine, it’s fine, we can get it back.’

“And it’s something we really focused on, just building each other up and that’s what we did and by the end of the season everyone was playing with a lot more confidence.”

McVeigh, a three-time Class 2A all-state selection – earning first team honors in her sophomore and junior years –  said this season she worked on improving her shot on penalty corners and also being more of a vocal leader. She finished her four seasons at GMA with 173 goals – another school record – and 74 assists.

“I really wanted to score more on the straight shot which I did end up doing a lot this year and even in the final game I had the two shots on the corners,” said McVeigh, a two-year captain for the Monarchs. “But also just mentally I feel like I was trying to be more of a leader this year and I would talk a lot on the field and in between and huddles and stuff.

“And I think that’s something I changed. I would always do that but I think this year the most I was really trying to direct people on the field and help us play as a team.”

McVeigh began the District 1-2A tournament with a four-goal effort as the third-seeded Monarchs rolled past No. 14 Strath Haven 14-0 in the first round then collected three goals and an assist as GMA clinch its first PIAA berth since 2018 by topping No.6 West Chester East 5-0 in the quarterfinals.

Gwynedd Mercy’s Alaina McVeigh gets a stick tap from teammate Ava Huntley after McVeigh’s goal in the fourth quarter against West Chester East in their District 1-2A quarterfinal on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

In the semifinals, Gwynedd Mercy was tied 1-1 with Upper Perkiomen at halftime before three straight second-half goals – the last scored by McVeigh – gave the Monarchs a 4-2 victory and a third meeting with Villa Maria in the district final.

After a loss and a tie in the regular season to the Hurricanes – who also beat GMA in last year’s district final – the Monarchs finally bested their Catholic Academies rival 3-1. Maddie Bogle’s second goal of the day broke a 1-1 tie with 13:38 in the fourth while McVeigh put GMA up two with her tally with 4:32 remaining.

“We were very hyped up for that game and I think after the tie we knew that we could definitely win after that,” McVeigh said. “So I think we just had to give it all we got and we definitely did. They played really well too – that was like a battle but it was a good game and it was crazy to win.”

McVeigh recorded four goals and a pair of assists as the Monarchs opened state play by cruising past Susquehannock 10-1. In the quarterfinals against Palmyra, McVeigh picked up the assist as Sydney Mandato scored on a deflection in the second quarter. In the fourth, Mandato struck for the go-ahead goal as GMA knocked off the defending state champs 2-1.

“I always had faith in our team that we’re going to be good but I’d say after the District 1 championship where obviously Villa Maria’s a really good team and they’re someone who we’ve rivaled with my whole four years,” McVeigh said. “Getting a win against them in the district final, it kind of gave us confidence going into states, it’s like we can beat a lot of people now.”

Gwynedd Mercy trailed Mechanicsburg 1-0 at halftime of their state semifinal but Monarchs rallied for a 2-1 victory, Audrey Beck scoring the equalizer in the third with McVeigh collecting the winner in the fourth – driving in from the right side and knocking a ball into the cage with 6:11 left for a 2-1 victory.

“I remember saying to myself just like over and over again, this won’t be my last high school field hockey game,” McVeigh said. “I wanted it so bad. I switched with Sydney and started playing a little bit of forward at the end and when I scored I was just jumping up and down, I was so excited.”

McVeigh’s goals No. 70 and 71 on the season came in the first half of the Class 2A final to give the Monarchs a 2-1 lead at the break before Twin Valley came back to end Gwynedd Mercy’s season a win short of the state crown.

“It was super-cool to be able to get that far,” McVeigh said. “And I think everyone at our school was so into it. We had huge student sections at like every game and they were definitely the loudest every time. So I think that was part of our encouragement to keep going because they were so into it too.”

McVeigh, who has played field hockey since first grade and played with club team WC Eagles since fourth grade, is eagerly anticipating her next step in the sport – competing on the Division I level at Duke.

“I’m so excited to go there next year,” she said. “I committed as a freshman but I felt confident committing as a freshman because obviously Duke’s such a good academic school along with being such a good field hockey school and coaches were awesome, I loved the team atmosphere so I thought there’s no better place for me to be so I really didn’t have any worries about committing that early.”

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