WHITEHALL -- There always seems to be that little talisman that comes along on championship journeys.
Of course, the team or athlete involved is already an elite performer, but they are looking for that edge. For the state champion Comets, enter Crestwood Smurf (or Smurfffff in the Twitterverse).
It's our mascot. Kailee (Krupski) has it, freshman Ashleigh Thomas said of the stuffed blue guy, complete with a red bandana made by junior Megan McCole, after Crestwood's 1-0 victory over Villa Maria in the PIAA Class 2A field hockey final Saturday.
He's been here for every game this year, said Krupski, a junior. He started with us last year.
With two trips to the state playoffs and now a state gold, Crestwood Smurf seems to be doing his job.
KEEPING THE FAITH: The players aren't the only Comets with lucky charms.
I have my district medal. I've been carrying it since we won it, assistant coach Patsy Moratori said. I've been wearing the same shirt, too. A little superstitious, huh?
I haven't washed it, but it's no big deal because I only have it on for two hours or so, and it's been cold.
Moratori said the shirt ritual was just for the state playoffs. With a husband who loves to be afield hunting this time of year and two young children, laundry time (and space in the washer) can be at a premium anyway.
TAKING THE FIFTH: After the 2010 season, the Wyoming Valley Conference boasted two coaches with four state titles. Just two years later, they each have five.
Karen Klassner led Wyoming Seminary to the 2011 crown, and Elvetta Gemski received another gold medal Saturday.
This was our goal this season -- to be playing on the last day of the season, Gemski said. We wanted to be here. We wanted to win.
With a milestone 600th career win this season, and big turnover from a 2011 roster that saw six Comets go on to play collegiately, this was a squad that needed to grow together ... and did.
Yeah, that. I think of players, when asked by a reporter about title No. 5. Our No. 5, Hannah (Ackers), their No. 5, (Megan) Parsons. This ... I'm still in disbelief. It's been a wonderful trip with this group. They have worked and learned from Day 1. It's just extra rewarding for the coaches (because of that).
HEADLINE HERE: My mom always says that defense wins games, but offense gets the headlines, McCole, a junior back, said in the days before the title game in Whitehall.
Well, the defense sure did play a major role in getting the gold.
Most of Villa Maria's 16 penalty corners were snuffed out, and while the number of corners was high, the Hurricanes found it difficult to reach the circle. The 16 corners were created by just seven possessions inside the 25-yard line.
McCole was a big part of that. She won a key one-on-one battle with Villa's Alex Ostoich and cleared the ball with a minute left in the first half. She was sharp during the final Hurricanes surge, making a stop of 31-goal scorer Megan Parsons as she looked for the equalizer.
Throw in a defensive save on the first corner of the second half and you have a major contribution.
That's essentially my personality, McCole said. I like for people to depend on me. I work well under pressure.
GAME OF HER LIFE: Sophomore goalie Dallas Kendra did not have an easy save Saturday, but she made every one of them.
We couldn't win today without Dallas, co-captain Chandler Ackers said Saturday.
From the shot ticketed for the top corner of the goal that she batted down, to a save made off her right knee and another by an outstretched right leg, Kendra played her biggest game on the state's biggest stage.
It's just a great overall feeling, Kendra said. We knew we would do anything to get that win. We knew we had to keep that same intensity we played with on Tuesday.
Kendra sure did. Villa Maria played 24 games this season and scored at least three goals in a whopping 21 of them. The shutout by the sophomore goalie was the first time the Hurricanes were blanked since their opener in August.
HIGHLIGHTS: Crestwood had some lengthy possessions inside the Villa 25 and created some excellent scoring chances.
Casey Cole, who was always in the vicinity when Connecticut-bound Olivia Bolles had the ball, sent in a ball from outside of the circle that found Hannah Ackers, but her shot went wide in the 21st minute.
A couple of great transitions sandwiched halftime -- Elizabeth Dessoye, who led the Comets in earning corners, outletted to Maury Cronauer, who set up Marissa Surdy for a reverse-stick shot that went wide in the 30th minute; in the 31st, Chandler Ackers' lift off a foul found Cronauer in the open field, and she got the ball to Ashleigh Thomas, who drew a corner.
Morgan Kile ripped a sharp reverse-stick shot in the 35th minute that Villa goalie Erika Miller had to bat away with her blocker.
LOOKING AHEAD: The WVC remains the preeminent field hockey league in the state, thanks to Gemski, Klassner and the rest of the coaches in the loop. You don't win state championships playing a soft league schedule.
Overall, the WVC has won nine of the last 12 PIAA Class 2A championships, including two seasons where the state final was an all-WVC affair. There's also a Class 3A crown in there and another finals appearance, impressive considering the lower number of big schools in the league.
And the powerhouse status should remain, and grow, next season. Crestwood brings back nine starters. Wyoming Seminary, Holy Redeemer, Dallas, Wyoming Area, etc., all bring back a lot in 2A. There's no reason to think the battles in 3A will be any easier, as Coughlin, Honesdale and Valley West (even with six D-I seniors) lead the way in returning key players.