KINGSTON — School may technically be closed until the end of August; but the summer officially ended for Wyoming Valley athletes.
The fall sports season opened for all Wyoming Valley Conference teams Monday. In haste, local prep athletes left their summer jobs, camps or the (now) indented spot on the couch to return to the field for the first official practices of 2014.
For one team, it means the exceptionally daunting task of defending a state championship. Wyoming Seminary claimed third PIAA Class 2A field hockey state championship in the past four years last November with a 2-1 victory over local rival Crestwood.
“You can’t really tell the first day,” Blue Knights coach Karen Klassner said. “Our kids were playing all summer in summer leagues. We lost a lot of players. We’re regrouping and we’re excited to get going again.”
Wyoming Seminary graduated eight players, many of whom are currently in camp at Division I programs, from last year’s roster. The 33-year coaching veteran Klassner expects many of her 10 seniors to fill in the leadership roles.
“I’ve been coaching long enough (to know) that you start each year and see what you have,” Klassner said. “Do what you do to get to states and districts. It’ll be a lot of work because we lost so many starters. I’ve been around long enough to know there is always a player there to take over for the one that leaves. “
Camps, club teams and conditioning regimens have kept athletes of all sports in better shape entering the official practice schedule.
“It helps because you don’t get the injuries that you used to get,” Klassner said. “Our roster is small – only 25 girls – so we can’t afford any injuries.”
“The freshmen (are) playing a lot in the offseason,” Wyoming Valley West coach Linda Fithian said. “Our community is giving a lot more options in the offseason.”
On the other side of Kingston, Wyoming Valley West field hockey looks to return to the District 2 Class 3A title game after coming up short in the semis in overtime each of the past two years to Delaware Valley and Honesdale, respectively. Fithian stressed getting the girls to prepare in August to focus in October.
“We always set our goals high,” Fithian said. “We talked about why we lost the past two years. We lost in the exact same way. We need to make sure we are prepared for that. It’s a mental thing.”
Fithian said coaches work mainly on the basics, stick work and conditions to make sure “everyone is on the same page.” She touted her freshman class that has come prepared to the first day of camp.
“The girls were very excited,” Fithian said. “They said it felt like we never even left, so it was kind of neat to get everyone back together again.”
The start of the new season also sees the beginning of a two-year cycle which pushed many WVC teams into new divisional alignments or PIAA classifications. The conference put an end to the one-for-all girls soccer division and incorporated an uneven three-division structure based off PIAA classification. Similarly, boys soccer kept its three-division scheme but reclassified based on male enrollment. Field hockey adopted a four-division look that is based off of female enrollment rather than past on-field successes.
No matter what new regulations are passed, for seniors like the Spartan midfielder Haley Gayoski, the day marked the beginning of her final season.
“It’s bittersweet, she said. “I’ve been really excited to come back. We’re finally ready to start our season. Being back with our team is an experience in and of itself.”
On the other spectrum, Wyoming Seminary freshman Emily Sims relishes the opportunity to finally practice with the varsity team.
“It feels like you really accomplish something because you have to work hard,” Sims said. “We’re defending a state championship. It’s a lot of work.”