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Villa Maria falls in state semi-finals

EMMAUS—The clock struck midnight on Villa Maria’s Cinderella run through the field hockey post season. On a bitter cold night at Emmaus, the Hurricanes (15-10) fell 3-1 to Wyoming Valley West in the PIAA, Class AA semi-finals.

Villa’s Gia Whalen blows past WVW’s Rina Tsioles (BILL RUDICK for MediaNews Group)

“I couldn’t be more proud of this team,” said Villa coach Katie Evans. “I’m sure quite a few people didn’t think we were getting out of districts, yet here we are, just one game shy of state finals.”

In reaching the semi-finals, Villa Maria was the last area team standing in field hockey. Any other year, such news would be met with a hearty “ho-hum, so what else is new?” After all, the Hurricanes have set the standard in the area for success in the sport.

But this year was a bit different. With a slew of freshmen and sophomores playing key roles, Villa plowed through a schedule about as tough as could be, with seemingly every team they played ranked nationally, or at least regionally. By the end of the regular season, the Hurricanes had an unsightly nine losses, and for the first time in a long, long time, they didn’t even host a district game, pulling down the No 9 seed.

As the season progressed, this team simply kept improving every time out. With the seniors acting as perfect mentors, the younger players were no longer kids with excellent potential, but began to ease into their roles.  After falling in overtime in District semi-finals to Merion Mercy, the third time this season they fell to the Golden Bears, Villa came back for a third-place finish to punch their ticket to states, where they won two straight, including avenging the lost to Merion Mercy, to advance to semis.  

Villa’s Maura O’Hare battles with Georgia Tsioles (BILL RUDICK for MediaNews Group)

“The schedule we played allowed us to learn a lot of valuable lessons we were able to apply during the post season,” said Evans. “After all the great seniors we lost to graduation last year, this could’ve been a rebuilding year. But the whole team looked at it as simply advancing our team towards the future, and that confidence, along with the lessons learned, helped us navigate the post season. Just came up a little bit short.”

With temperatures in the high 20s at game time, the two teams took a little bit to warm up and get going, though both teams had opportunities throughout the first half. At one point, the Spartans had forced four penalty corners in quick succession, but Villa, thanks in no small part to a diving defensive save by back Adriana Yacovelli, kept the ball out of the cage.

Villa’s Colby Dobra sends a pass towards the circle as WVW’s Rory Evans defends (BILL RUDICK for MediaNews Group)

Yacovelli’s save seemed to light a fire under the Hurricanes, and the remainder of the half saw the momentum shift towards their side, ending with a couple of penalty corners after time expired in the half. This time around, it was the Spartans defense coming up big, and the game went to the break at halftime still scoreless.

That changed three minutes into the second half when the Spartans’ Cameryn Forgash sent one across the front of the goal and into the cage netting on the far side for a 1-0 Wyoming Valley West lead.

Villa tied the game ten minutes later. With the Hurricanes getting solid pressure inside the circle, sophomore Annie Shaw grabbed a ball in a crowd out near the top of the circle, and blasted a shot past the drawn out Spartan goalie for the equalizer with 19:10 to play. 

Villa celebrates Annie Shaw’s game-tying goal BILL RUDICK for MediaNews Group)

Unfortunately, that was the last gasp for the Hurricanes, as Wyoming Valley West tacked on another couple of goals for the 3-1 final score.

“To finish the season as strong as we did says all you need about this team and how hard they work,” said Evans. “The future is very bright for the team coming back next year.”

For the outgoing seniors, it is the end of a great four year run that included district and state championships, and deep post season runs every year.

“You don’t have enough room in the paper for all the things I can say about this senior class,” said Evans. “They were always so welcoming and inclusive, making it very easy on our transfer students and underclassmen, helping ease the transition for everyone. That and the work ethic they displayed made them perfect role models.”

That is Villa hockey—each group helping groom the next group of Villa stars. Maybe no one knows that better than Evans, who played her high school hockey at Villa before going on to success in college and on USA National Teams.

“When I came into high school as a freshman, I knew absolutely no one,” said senior back Kate Perretta. “But by the end of preseason, I knew I had met all my best friends. Katie and all of the coaches taught us so many important lessons, both for field hockey and life, that I’ll never be able to thank them enough.”

Though the future remains unclear—Perretta has not decided on college yet—her time at Villa will be etched in her memory.

“So many great things happened while I was here,” said Perretta. “This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, and we got even further than we did last year. It was always exciting. We won districts last year and we won states when I was a sophomore and those were amazing times, but I’m not sure that means as much as the way we came together as a team and finished the year the way we did.”

Wyoming Valley West 0 3 –3
Villa Maria Academy 0 1 –1

WVW—Forgash, Tsioles, Rupnik

Goalie Saves: Rusnock (WVW) 4, Kimmel (VMA) 9

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