LEWISTOWN - One thing hasn't changed for Tish Maclay in the nearly two decade she's been winning titles and taking teams to states: Because they're from the west, they're not taken seriously.
District 3 dominates the sport; a few other eastern districts fall in line behind that district, which cuts a swath across south-central Pennsylvania from Harrisburg to Reading. The west accounts for less than 10 percent of the schools in the game, and often finds itself in the Rodney Dangerfield role - they don't get no respect.
It doesn't help, Maclay concedes, that her team needs one more win to hit .500, something she's pretty sure will give tonight's opponent, Twin Valley, reason to scoff as the PIAA Class AAA tournament opens at Memorial Field in State College. Game time is 6 p.m.
Sentinel photo by Steve Manuel
Mifflin County sophomore forward Marisa Byler jumps to avoid being hit by the ball during the District 6 Class AAA championship against State College. The Huskies, who beat the Little Lions and District 7 champ North Allegheny in a play-in game, return to State College tonight to play Twin Valley in the first round of the state tournament.
"Absolutely. Of course they are," she said. "But you can't dwell on the past, you can only try to get better each game and you want to be playing your best hockey at the end of the season. I think our team is playing our best hockey. That's all you can ask for."
Twin Valley, which was the fifth-place team in District 3, has plenty going for it. Start with Ashley Hoffman, a junior already committed to Division I North Carolina. She scored 31 of her team's 104 goals this year, and added 23 assists. It's in her genes - her coach and mother, Brenda Stauffer Hoffman, was a bronze medalist in the 1984 Olympics and was NCAA player of the year in her Penn State days.
"We don't know a ton about them because they're not a name we're familiar with. We just did a little bit of research on our own," Maclay said. "I know from the teams they played this season that they'ved played some good quality teams that we've seen in the state tournament before."
The Raiders (23-2) won their second straight Berks County League title with just one regular-season loss, 2-1 to defending state champ Lower Dauphin. They outshot Warwick 6-1 in the District 3 quarterfinals, but the lone Warwick shot was the only one that went into the goal, and Twin Valley had to play back to the state bracket - also for the second straight year.
"We've played teams that have really bad records and we've had really good records before and they beat us. I've been on both sides of it," Maclay noted. "I don't think you can use just a team's record as an indication of what they really are. We played North Allegheny and they had a much better record than what we did. We made the three and a half our trip there, we played on their home turf and we ended up winning."
The scoring of both teams has been an imbalance this season, and not one that will favor the Huskies. Twin Valley's scoring exceeds four goals per game; the Raiders have allowed just 11 - less than half a goal per game - all year. While Mifflin County has been tough on defense, the weak spot at times has been the ability to bury the ball.
"That's been our problem all year, is putting enough goals in the cage," Maclay admitted. "We have gotten better at it. I think one of the best things our girls have seen watching some of the video of the team that we're going to play, Twin Valley, is that they shoot the ball as soon as they get in the circle. Now they're seeing other teams doing it and it's been successful. Hopefully that has a bigger impact than our words do."
The improvement was shown in the district game, when Anne Harshbarger delivered a much-needed insurance goal that was most unexpected. She entered the circle, fired and got the ball in off the toe of State College's goalie.
"They play around with it too much," Maclay laments. "She got it at a right angle. It wasn't a hard shot, it was hard enough to deflect off the goalie and go in the cage."
Stopping the Raiders will require more than possession.
"This team's definitely tougher. This will probably be the toughest team we've seen all season," Maclay said. "They're a high-scoring team. They have a lot of weapons and we know that."
Again, the Huskies are the opposite: It's a no-name team where working together is the key to success.
"That's definitely a philosophy we like to take here," Maclay said. "It has to be a total team effort to knock off a team like that. It's going to take a lot of communicating, working together and trusting each other."