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DLN FIELD HOCKEY PREVIEW: Downingtown West, Conestoga lead talent-rich region into strange season

The Chester County high school field hockey scene this fall includes a plethora of talented squads that should be making their marks in the Ches-Mont League, the Central League and the AACA.

Downingtown West, the defending PIAA District 1 Class 3A champion, brings back most of last year’s team, including a couple of players who received first team All-Area honors by the Daily Local News.

Kennett, which won its first divisional title last fall and captured a District 1 playoff victory for the first time in well over a decade, returns its top scorer and top defender and a solid corps of underclassmen.

Conestoga, which failed to win the Central League last fall for the first time in a decade, will be looking to get back on top with a talented group of returning Division I commits.

Villa Maria Academy, which advanced to the PIAA semifinal in 2019, is a young team which returns many of the players that were part of the Hurricanes’ inspired post-season run last fall.

Here’s a look at the area high school girls’ field hockey teams based on information provided to the Daily Local News by the respective teams:

Bishop Shanahan qualified for the PIAA Class 2A state tournament last season fall, and brings back arguably the area’s top goalie in Emma Leppert.

“Emma is a great leader and anchor in goal for this team,” said Shanahan head coach Maria Mastrocola. “Being in goal she has the ability to see the whole field and communicate to her teammates what she sees to help them be successful.”

Two other leaders for Shanahan are senior captains Katie Keating (defender) and Bella D’Alessandro (midfielder). Other key returnees are senior forward Angelina Luongo, junior forward Brie Malluzzi and senior defenders Alli Kiley and Lexi Donovan.

Conestoga, which failed to win the Central League last fall for the first time in a decade, will be looking to get back on top.

The Pioneers will rely heavily on the experience of seniors Carly Hynd (the University of Maryland commit scored 19 goals and dished out 15 assists last fall), Sofia Ries, Amanda Foster (Drexel commit) and Jess Mullin (University of Richmond commit).

In addition, the leading scorer in the Central League last fall, sophomore Kate Galica, will provide offensive opportunities and junior Lily Wolfe (recently committed to Quinnipiac) will anchor the defense with Ries.

Hynd, Ries and Galica received both All-Central League and Daily Local News All-Area honors last fall, and Hynd was an all-state selection. They are returning to a Pioneers’ squad that posted a 15-5 overall record last fall (8-3 in the Central League for third place).

Pioneer head coach Regan Teti Marscher said, “Carly is fast, smart and an exceptional leader — the kids look to her. Amanda has outstanding field sense and a beautiful hit. Sofia is scrappy and quick and makes a lot of defensive saves. Lily is very physically strong and has a great hit. Kate’s athleticism is uncanny, she’s got a great touch on the ball and her speed is exceptional. Jess has incredible fast stick work and an amazing quick shot.

“Losing Annie Hirschman and Chloe Ziegler to graduation last spring has shifted the offensive strategy a bit, but in a good way. Our defense is a solid unit. Everyone can’t wait for the season.”

Downingtown West, the defending District 1 Class 3A champion, looks strong again this fall.

“We are looking forward to a great season,” said Downingtown West head coach Stephanie Bullock. “We lost two starters and are bringing back most of last year’s team. We also have some young new players ready to step up.”

One key returnee is senior midfielder Kari Schmidt. Last fall, she was a Whippet co-captain along with Daily Local News Field Hockey Player of the Year Ciana Riccardo, and excelled in distribution to the West attack, notching six goals and 12 assists, while chipping in defensively with 11 defensive saves. She received Daily Local News All-Area first team honors.

“Kari brings leadership and experience to the team,” said Bullock. “We expect Kari to really step up on the offensive side this season.”

Another key Whippet this fall is junior back Gianna Jaszczak, who last fall really stepped up her game the longer the season went on, shutting down opposing attackers as well as anyone. Jaszczak finished the season with 14 defensive saves, good enough for fifth in Southeast Pennsylvania. Like Scmidt, she received Daily Local News All-Area first team honors.

“Gianna is one of our top defenders — she sets the tone and really distributes the ball well for us,” said Bullock.

D-West also will rely on a couple of sophomore forwards, Ashley Plzak and Ciara Margetich.

“Ashley does a great job controlling the ball on the right side, and she does an amazing job creating opportunities and transitioning into the attack,” said Bullock. “She has a strong shot and is one of our top players for assists. Ciara has really grown as a top player for us – she is a strong player with great speed and stick work.”

Other key Whippets to watch include junior backs Lauren Tinson and Peyton Margetich, both of whom started for D-West last fall.

“Laren does a nice job controlling the back field, and has great speed and field vision,” said Bullock. “Peyton is a great communicator and strong presence in the transition.”

Sophomore midfielder Alyssa Freeman is another Whippet to watch this fall.

“Alyssa does a great job controlling the ball in the midfield – she has strong field vision and works well with transitioning the ball to our forwards,” said Bullock.

Great Valley features a couple of promising freshmen forward/midfielders in sisters Nadia and Eva Nemeth, who Patriots head coach Brenda Haley said bring speed and precision to the field.

Haley noted that sophomore forward/midfielder Ella Winters is having a better showing than last year with her quick and unique stick skills.

Leading the Patriots’ defense is junior Kennedy Graham, whom Haley called, “our powerhouse in the back.”

Kennett won its first divisional title last fall, earned its third consecutive District 1 tournament berth, and captured a District 1 playoff victory for the first time in well over a decade. This fall, the Blue Demons return their top scorer (senior midfielder and co-captain Emma Schwarz) and top defender (senior captain Mia Gruce), and a solid corps of underclassmen – half of the players in the Blue Demons’ 2019 starting line-up were freshmen.

Blue Demon head coach Meghan Shumway said, “We should have a solid showing in the Ches-Mont American Division this season. We hope that we can make a run for Districts even though we have an abbreviated schedule of only six games.”

“Mia Gruce is a consistent leader on defense,” said Shumway. “She has great vision and hockey intelligence to distribute the ball from the backfield. She’s not a flashy player, but can she can be counted on to break up plays and transition the ball quickly.”

Schwarz is committed to play field hockey at Villanova University in 2021.

“Emma is our go-to player, and has very precise and deceptive stick work as well as a lethal shot on goal,” said Shumway. “She controls the midfield and is a catalyst for our offensive as both a play maker and a leading scorer.”

Another Blue Demon to watch is sophomore goalie Maddi Sears.

“Maddi is quick and incredibly agile, and she already has a year of varsity experience under her belt,” said Shumway. “Maddi is poised under pressure and predicts the play like a well-seasoned goalie.”

Another Kennett player to watch is junior forward Vivian Chiomento.

“Vivian is an explosive forward with great speed and agility,” said Shumway. “I look for her to propel the offense into the circle and set up her teammates for goal scoring opportunities while adding a few of her own to the back of the net.”

Oxford returns seven starting seniors this fall.

“The senior group has played together for several years and brings a lot of communication and strength to the lineup,” said Oxford head coach Karly Belford. “The team has stepped up individually in the offseason to remain ready for this fall during these tough times. We have some younger players that have key roles for the varsity team and I look forward to seeing them grow.”

Key Hornets this fall include senior goalie Kirsten Brennan, a third-year starter who Belford said, “has developed tremendously over the years and moves well in the goal.”

Another third-year starter is senior defender and captain Kate Lilly, who Belford said “controls the team with her communication.”

Senior midfielder Amanda Holz, another third-year starter, contributes speed and strength in the midfield, and is considered a very versatile player for the Hornets.

Sophomore defender Abby Johnson is a second-year starter who Belford said is “one of our most knowledge players, plays year round with WC Eagles and brings a lot of skill.”

Unionville’s defense is anchored by returning seniors Dani Panati and Ashton McCormick, senior goalie Gill Haldeman and junior Kayla Peakes. Its leading midfielders are sophomore Ellie Almeida and junior Olivia Rizzi, and the forward line’s top scoring threats include sophomore Molly Main, junior Bella Wilkins and junior Zenna Mariani.

Villa Maria Academy had a very young team in 2019 – occasionally the Hurricanes had four freshmen on the field — which made an inspired run to the PIAA state semifinal last fall.

“The experiences from last year were invaluable, and we’re looking forward to continuing to grow as a team and program,” said Villa Maria head coach Katie Evans. “The girls have all worked extremely hard to prepare for this season. I’m excited — and grateful — for them to have the opportunity to safely resume play this year and build on those efforts.”

One of the Hurricanes’ key returnees is junior Lindsey Roberts, an Ohio State commit who was the top scorer for Villa Maria last fall with 18 goals.

“Lindsey is dynamic, talented and a natural forward,” said Evans. “We’ll rely on her poise and goal scoring prowess to set the tone for our attack. This will be a breakout year for Lindsey.”

Another key returnee is junior Maia Dechiario, who recently committed to University of Connecticut for field hockey.

“Maia has a strong style of play that shows her determination and competitive nature,” said Evans. “She has great ability on both sides of the ball with a ton of diversity in her skills. We’ll look to utilize Maia in new ways this year as she continues to be an anchor for our team.”

Villa Maria sophomore Gia Whalen had a standout field hockey year in 2019, making the USA U16 National Team as well as the USA Junior Indoor National Team.

“Gia is a gifted athlete that can distribute the ball extremely well; who has vision and poise well beyond her years,” said Evans. “We look to capitalize on her experiences outside of school to strengthen our team at Villa.”

Senior Colby Dobra is another leading returnee for the Hurricanes.

“Colby is a gritty and dedicated player who never gives up,” said Evans. “She’s a strong leader and a true competitor for our program who we’ll rely on again a great amount throughout our season. Her talent, effort and ability is greatly appreciated by our team and we know she’s going to leave it all on the field for her senior year.”

Other key players for the Hurricanes include junior midfielder Caroline O’Brien, sophomore forward Caitlin Files and junior midfielder Ryan Hickey.

“Caroline is an exciting athlete who is both graceful and strong,” said Evans. “She’s intelligent and thoughtful with everything she does, and is going to have a much bigger role on our team.

“Caitlin’s confidence and skills are shining through this year. We’ll look to her for added strength on our forward line and we know she has the ability to be a real game changer.

“Ryan provides a lot of stability on both sides of the ball. Her fitness is top notch and she’s a wonderful addition to our program for her consistency. She came up big in several important games last year and we’re grateful to have someone of her ability round out our midfield.”

West Chester Henderson lost only one starter from last year to graduation. Warrior head coach Courtney Wolff said, “We are excited to see how much we have grown and improved, as a unit, in such a short period of time. We have a dynamic attacking presence and a solid and sound defensive backbone…. Our players have been training hard and staying focused even with so many new changes going on in the world – I think that is what makes this team special in this 2020 season. They can adapt to change and stay positive in tough situations.”

Key Warriors to watch this fall include senior attack Gianna Cugino, senior backs Lauren Franco and Liv Ingram, senior midfielders Sammi Cantor and Kylie Patton, junior midfielder Lauren Fulling, junior back Delaney Turner, sophomore back Molly DiCampli and sophomore attack Hilary Hoffman.

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