NEWPORT - For five years, Greenwood's supremacy in Tri-Valley League field hockey has become almost a foregone conclusion.
Not this year. A loss to East Juniata in Millerstown and a late-season tie against Line Mountain forced the Wildcats to play for their trophy.
But the difference between a veteran championship squad and one that has found itself in the mix for the first time in more than a decade was evident on the rain-soaked grass at Newport Thursday.
Sentinel photo by LARRY?YOHN
East Juniata’s Caitlin Hoover, left, plays a ball past Greenwood’s Kelsey Keener during the Tri-Valley League field hockey championship game Thursday at Newport.
Greenwood attacked relentlessly, garnering more than a dozen penalty corner opportunities, while East Juniata struggled when it was in front of the Wildcat goal. Net results? Title No. 6 for Greenwood, 2-0.
"We have a little motto: The faces change but the expectations don't," Greenwood coach Kent Houser said. "I think our seniors do a great job every year of bringing our freshmen along and bringing them in to how we do things."
To be fair, East Juniata created the first opportunity of the game, working the ball upfield and getting a corner inside the first minute of play. Steph Dressler dribbled into the circle and drove the ball just wide of the cage, as the Tigers' first opportunity was squandered. They didn't get too many more.
Greenwood had a pair of good shots before the Wildcats had a corner - one by Mallory Fortenbaugh needed a deflection that wasn't there, the other, a Hattie Kuhns effort, also was outside the box.
The 'Cats went to the corner three times after that, the third resulting in a goal. Fortenbaugh played the ball in to Lauren Fried, and a two-tap pass put it on Kuhns' stick. This time, she was on target - beating traffic, or perhaps capitalizing on a screen in front of East Juniata keeper Lydia Strawser - and with little more than 10 minutes elapsed, it was 1-0.
East Juniata coach Billie Haines attributed a lot of her team's problems to nerves.
"When you get a little excited you don't always do things as well as you are capable of," she said. "I'm proud of them. They came to play today, they did a great job. They have nothing to hang their heads about."
The fact that it stayed that way until just four minutes remained in the game was attributable at least in part to the weather, which made it difficult to play with accuracy.
"We just talked at halftime how you have to be lower, you have to play a little wider to be able to handle the conditions," Houser said. "I thought our stopping of the ball was very good; I thought we handled the ball well."
For East Juniata, it was a lack of opportunity - the Tigers had just one more corner in the game; it was midway through the first. When they were upfield, they seemed to hit an invisible wall. Or maybe that was Greenwood's defense.
"I thought we did a great job of just keeping the ball out of the circle," Houser said. "Most of the stuff they got were just rips across the front of the cage. We did a great job of not fouling when they got the ball in the circle. Raina (Sweger) and Emily (Fisher) did a great job of containing the ball and keeping it away from the circle."
East Juniata moved the ball well, but couldn't finish when it did get to the scoring circle. The second corner failed to produce a shot; the Tigers - perhaps eager, maybe bubbly with excitement - made simple mistakes that made their play look sloppier than they are capable of.
"I felt like our girls went to the ball most of the game. I think it came down to the fact that they're maybe not used to this high-pressure game," Haines said. "In the end, they all sort of got a little excited and we didn't possess the ball as well as we could have."
If the first half was mostly Greenwood with a dash of East Juniata, the second was the Wildcat show. Like the opening half, the Tigers got in front of the Greenwood goal and had a chance - but no more - then the 'Cats took over.
Greenwood drew five corners in a 15-minute span - to the Wildcats' detriment, none of them ended up being a goal - and then one more just inside the five-minute mark. That one proved to be the toughest test Strawser faced all night; she booted the ball away twice before ending up on the ground, and was bailed out by a defensive save as the 'Cats got three bites at the apple on the play.
"It's game after game. She's always on top of her game," Haines said of her goalie.
"We try to get some corners. That's where a lot of our goals come from," Houser said. "They did a pretty nice job of stopping us from trying to score off our corners."
But, on the ensuing long hit, Greenwood's Mackenzie Drew was able to dribble right into the goal and deliver an insurance policy.
Greenwood (12-5-1, 7-1-1) will play its first District 3 Class AA tournament game against Donegal at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Lower Dauphin High School. East Juniata (13-4-1, 6-2-1) awaits the release of the District 4 Class AA bracket to see its next opponent.