STATE COLLEGE - Just before Mifflin County's PIAA Class AAA first-round field hockey game against Twin Valley Tuesday, the Huskies got a special visit.
Jaynee Carolus, the longtime clock operator at Mifflin County (and previously, Indian Valley), among other roles in girls sports in the county, was wheeled out onto the field - and was quickly surrounded by the players.
Carolus, who is recovering from a stroke, had just two words for the team: Kick butt.
Jaynee Carolus, seated, talks to Mifflin County field hockey players and coaches before Tuesday’s playoff game. Carolus, a favorite of the players, has worked with the team for years, but missed the past few games due to health issues.
"Her little pep talk, that was something special," junior defender Renee Grill said. "We haven't seen her in a couple games. It was nice to see her."
"It's great to see her better again because she's our biggest fan," Grace Wagner, a junior mid, added. "To have her here in support really meant a lot to the entire team."
The good cheer that Carolus' visit brought to the Huskies was matched by the team's demeanor after 30 minutes of play, when the Raiders were held to a slim one-goal lead.
Four goals later, it had become a lesson in field hockey to the underclassmen that make up most of the Mifflin County roster - which has just six seniors, only three of whom were starters. The powerful offense put forth by Twin Valley eventually ground down the District 6 team, starting with 12 penalty corners earned by the Berks County League team.
"All those corners that that had, having us go to the 50 and back, 50 and back," lamented Kezia Loht, another junior mid and one of the few players in white and purple who seemed to have an endless supply of energy.
The difference in conditioning was more visible - and visible sooner - than any real difference in talent. Twin Valley's starters pretty much went the distance in the game, and seemed to be no worse for the wear when it was over.
"They were challenging but I thought we stuck pretty well with them at the beginning," Loht said.
It didn't stay that way.
"These girls put a lot of time in in the offseason. We don't put as much time," Wagner said. "This offseason, I think we should all plan to put in a lot of hours on the field and off the field as far as conditioning goes and as far as skills go."
Defense has been the mainstay of the Huskies all year, and it was no different against the Raiders. Throughout the first half, the Mifflin County goal was challenged repeatedly - remember all those corners? - but only one ball made it into the cage.
"We knew who their main scorers were. We tried to mark them as best we could," Grill said.
Loht was pragmatic in her take on the way the team defended.
"I feel like we marked extremely well in the first half and in the second half we started to get tired a little bit. Everyone as a team sort of laid off on the marking and we sort of fell apart at the end," she said. But, "I thought overall defense had a phenomenal game."
At the other end, it was just the kind of night the Huskies couldn't afford - one shot on goal.
"Knowing that they have really high scoring and we don't," was a problem, Loht said. "That has been all season that we've been lacking score. We need to be more of a push in the circle to shoot."
Grill said it was difficult to score against a team that had an obvious advantage.
"They were a very skilled team - seeing how they had those dodges and quick decisions in the circle especially," she said.
And it didn't help that Twin Valley owned the restarts, using that to its advantage to move the ball where it wanted.
"It definitely changes the momentum of the game as far as that goes," Wagner said. "And it's hard because they get you on your heels and the momentum switches. The hits really affected our game."