Sure, the Holy Redeemer Royals heard the talk.
They weren’t supposed to be strong enough, experienced enough or good enough to do much in the sport of field hockey outside their watered-down Division 2 of the Wyoming Valley Conference.
They knew some people around the area looked down on them.
They just didn’t care.
“Yeah, but it didn’t bother us, what people said,” Holy Redeemer senior playmaker Kayla Kruk said. “We knew how good we were. I knew what we could do.
“We obviously showed it last year.”
What the Royals put on display a season ago was a talent and toughness that not only won a lot of games, but won a lot of respect around the league with an unprecedented playoff run.
For the first time in school history, Redeemer reached a District 2 title game. The Royals followed that by earning Redeemer’s first-ever state field hockey playoff win, then the second, and reaching the PIAA Class 2A semifinals.
They not only put the program back in play as an area field hockey power after a few subpar seasons, the Royals took Redeemer field hockey over the top.
“I think a lot of teams were thinking, ‘Oh, they actually kept going,’ ” said Redeemer senior Leah Mullery, who scored 19 goals last season and led the WVC with 44 points. “We were shocked ourselves. We didn’t think we were going to make it that far.”
Now, their goal is to make it even farther.
The Royals flooded the cage with goals through their first two games while allowing none during a pair of 13-0 shutouts to open the 2017 season. They have returned most of their key players who dominated the WVC Division 2 with a 12-0 record last year, earned the top seed in the District 2 Class A tournament and joined perennial state powers Lake-Lehman and Crestwood as state playoff semifinalists.
“I think we’ll definitely make it back again this year,” said junior McKenna Dolan. “Last year, it was a bit of a shock.”
It would hardly be a surprise if Redeemer made another deep postseason run this year.
The Royals were disregarded, and somewhat disrespected, when they received the top district playoff seed over some very talented and more established field hockey programs playing in the more powerful WVC Division 1.
The uproar was mainly over the competition Redeemer played through the regular season.
While the Royals were defeating all six teams twice to go unbeaten in their significantly weaker WVC Division 2, 13-0-1 Division 1 champ Lake-Lehman and 12-2 Wyoming Seminary were battling fellow state playoff teams Wyoming Valley West and Crestwood, District 2/4 finalist Lackawanna Trail and 2015 state quarterfinalist Coughlin during a brutal Division 1 schedule.
Despite avoiding any teams with state playoff history, Redeemer gained the district’s top seed based on its 12-0 season mark.
“I know some other coaches were upset we were in the second division and would make it to states,” Holy Redeemer second-year coach Maura McCormick said. “I believe if we were in either division, we might be OK.”
But perceptions about Redeemer’s program began to change, when the Royals took Lehman to overtime before dropping a difficult 2-1 decision for the District 2 Class A title.
“We showed a lot of teams,” Mullery said, “that we weren’t just a team that beats the lesser teams. We showed we can hang with Lehman.”
Dolan scored Redeemer’s only goal in that game, and came within a whisker of lifting the Royals to the District 2 title when her breakaway shot went just wide of the cage moments before Lehman scored the game-winner.
“It was disappointing, not making it,” Dolan said. “But Lehman is a great team, they deserved it as much as we did. We did end up going to states.”
As the No. 2 team from District 2, Redeemer made its mark at Class A states, beating their first two PIAA opponents, Boiling Springs and Belleville Mennonite, by a combined 10-1 margin before losing 4-0 to eventual state champ Moravian Academy in the state semifinals.
“A lot of (area) coaches were happy with the way we played last year, in districts and states,” McCormick said. “I knew we had a lot of talent last year. We still have a lot of talent this year.”
But is that enough to transform the way the big guns from Division 1 look at Redeemer and the rest of Division 2?
The Royals will still play teams that aren’t as talented, or prestigious, as their counterparts in the WVC’s upper division.
“I think we have to do it again, try to prove ourselves again,” Kruk said. “But last year gave us a lot of confidence for the coming years.”
One marvelous season is all it took to convince the Royals that nothing is impossible, that even the wildest dreams can be achieved as long as they believe. Even when it seems like nobody else does.
“It gave us more motivation,” Dolan said, “to prove we should be there, even though we play some people in our league who may be easier to beat. It gives us motivation to come back their year and make that goal.”