Ardmore – After several years of struggling, the Lower Merion High School field hockey team is starting to build a winning tradition under first-year head coach Dana White.
The Aces (11-7-1, 6-4-1) advanced to the PIAA District One tournament this fall for what is believed to be the first time ever.
White said, “We were fortunate this season in that we had an even split of older and younger players that proved to be key and vital components to the program’s success. But more specifically, three players – Emma Ungar, Amelia Carpenter and Danielle Geis – made a huge difference in each game.”
Ungar is a senior mid/defender who received All-Central League and All-Main Line recognition last fall.
“Emma’s unfailing endurance and tenacity made all the difference for us on multiple occasions,” said White. “Her skills were consistent and she always managed to make the right decisions when they were most needed. She will be missed next season.”
Carpenter, a senior right back, was considered by White to be the Aces’ unsung hero.
“She was always challenged to take on the left forward, which can be a tricky task,” said White. “She challenged herself to master aerials, she did that; and she challenged herself to play calmer, smarter defense, she did that. Amelia was our most consistent defender, whose intelligence, calm skill, and consistency will be missed next year.”
Geis, a sophomore left forward, will be a key building block for the Aces next fall.
“Danielle is a relatively new player whose determination to improve and be a challenge on the field was always apparent,” said White. “She always figured out a way to put her plans in motion, while challenging defenders, making the circle a mess for goalies, and always playing with a fire that is a highly-sought, intangible asset. I am excited to have two more seasons with her.”
White added, “Eleanor Gaddy had a great season and was a crucial part of our defensive success. She adapted to a new role and helped guide the back field very well. Her decision making proved to be a boon to us when we needed a spark of energy or creativity. She’s a determined player whose push will be an asset next season.”
Lower Merion players that were recognized this fall with All-Central League honors were Emma Ungar (first team), Ashley Roberts (second team), Samantha Bruttomesso-Clarke (honorable mention) and Leona Fisher (honorable mention).
The Aces got off to a slow start (2-3) this fall, but started to gel as the season progressed.
“The girls finally began to have more faith in themselves, each other, and the reality that they deserved to be on the field and win as much as the other team,” said White. “They sorted out some mentality issues that were plaguing them as well. We discussed the importance of confidence and playing with expectation of winning. It was a difficult challenge for them.”
Late in the season, the Aces got hot, enjoying a six-game unbeaten streak, going 5-0-1 at one stretch.
“As we started the streak, they were learning that winning doesn’t just happen; it’s a collective decision to push and not give up until the goal is achieved,” said White.
Possibly the key game during that stretch was against Phoenixville, in which the Aces were trailing at halftime 1-0, but came back for three second-half goals to win. According to White, it was the first time any of the LM players could remember winning after coming from a deficit.
White sees three major factors in the Aces’ turnaround. The first one was her starting a club program, Penn Elite FHC.
“Part of what really appealed to me in joining the LM staff was being able to further ground myself in the local field hockey culture,” said White. “I founded Penn Elite Field Hockey Club because I knew that I wanted to be able to offer my coaching style and philosophies to not only my players, but players in the region that wanted off season training.
“A highlight of my arrival at Lower Merion was that some of the girls were already members of a few different area clubs. This was great news to me to know that the girls were working on their game, and with instructors that are educating some of the nation’s top talent. So whether LM field hockey girls spent the summer training with me or with other clubs, they came to preseason ready to get down to business.
“For those girls that joined PEFHC, it was a great way to segue into the season- we got to know each other before the first day of preseason. This type of preparedness allowed me to focus Lower Merion practices on high level skills and performance much sooner and more easily which, I think, gave us a leg up on preparing for our competitive schedule.”
White also said that, in the preseason, she needed to reassess the Lower Merion players and their skill sets, as well as the style of hockey they were used to playing.
“All of the players [in preseason] were evaluated in terms of fitness and skill, and having a clear picture of each of them allowed me to give them the time to adjust to new positions and learn new skills, while adapting to a new style of play,” said White. “They got to ask questions and learned how to think differently about the game, which taught them how to think differently about how to win.”
White saw the third key to the Aces’ turnaround as the players’ commitment to both individual and team improvement.
“As their skills and fitness improved they were able to play better for longer – individually and collectively,” said White. “Their execution consistently improved, and many of the girls experienced significant leaps in their overall talent; which resulted in greater team resilience, tenacity, and problem solving when faced with challenging games.”
Building a winning mentality on the Lower Merion field hockey team is a work in progress that White says will continue into 2016.
“It’s something that has to be worked on consistently until the winning mentality is solidified – and we will do it,” she said.