The objective is simple for Wyoming Seminary and Wyoming Valley West.
Win Tuesday night at Whitehall High School, and the prize is a return ticket back to the same spot to play for a state field hockey championship.
But accomplishing it just may be a little more difficult than either District 2 champion is accustomed to.
Valley West will go up against Max Field Hockey’s No. 3 team in the nation when the Spartans play defending PIAA champion Donegal at 7 p.m. in a Class 2A state semifinal at Whitehall’s Zephyr Complex.
That comes just after Sem faces Oley Valley, last year’s state runner-up and the country’s No. 13 team, in a 5 p.m. PIAA Class A semifinal showdown also at the Zephyr Complex.
And while their opponents both played in last season’s state championship games, nobody playing for Sem or Valley West has been this deep in the postseason before.
Many teams might look at squaring off against an opponent with more national prestige and playoff experience as a daunting task.
Valley West looks at it as a welcomed challenge.
“It’s another game,” Valley West coach Linda Fithian said. “We’ll do what we’ve been doing all year. We’re a team, playing solid defense and playing for each other.”
It’s worked fine for her Spartans.
They rolled to a 19-2 record, a No. 18 national ranking and the No. 11 spot in the Pennsylvania/New Jersey Region according to Max Field Hockey, led by seniors Madison Woods, Mercedes Jasterzenski and a plethora of scoring punch.
But Donegal is 25-1, boasts 91-goal scorer Mackenzie Alessie — a junior coming off a four-goal game in Saturday’s 5-1 state quarterfinal win over Manheim Central — along with dangerous playmaker Lily Saunders.
And Donegal, which is No. 2 in the PA/NJ Region along with its No. 3 national ranking and won 50 of its 51 games over the past two seasons, already defeated Valley West 3-2 in overtime Sept. 23.
A chance for Valley West to earn some revenge?
“Our kids don’t think like that,” said Fithian, whose current seniors reached the PIAA quarterfinal round as freshmen in 2014 and played in a state opener last season before breaking through to reach the semifinals with Saturday’s 3-1 win over Selinsgrove. “We’re better now than we were, so are they. It’s a brand new game. Any given day.”
Sem won’t have a much easier day.
The Blue Knights (21-2) are ranked No. 16 nationally and No. 10 in the PA/NJ Region while making a return to states for the first time since winning the PIAA Class A title in 2013.
But none of their current players were around for that state experience, while Oley Valley returns plenty from last year’s state runner-up finish of a year ago.
“I think we’ll be fine,” Wyoming Seminary coach Karen Klassner said. “They’re excited. They worked very hard to get here.”
The Blue Knights are up against a Lynx team that holds a No. 8 ranking in PA/NJ and is on a 24-game winning streak. Oley Valley is led by 50-goal scorer Sophia Gladieux, a sophomore, and 30-goal scorer Madison Kline and has won 50 of its 52 games over the past two years.
It only has Sem looking to raise its game as the state stakes get raised.
“Play the best game we’ve played all season,” Klassner said her team needs to do to advance to Saturday’s PIAA finals. “We’ve seen them play a couple times, we know they’re a very good team. Sophia Gladieux is an outstanding field hockey player, but she’s surrounded by a lot of good players. I think it’s going to be a great game to watch.”
Not that Sem’s players have been standing around and watching much.
Alex Wesneski scored twice in Sem’s 3-1 victory over New Hope-Solebury in Saturday’s quarterfinals, Aubrey Mytych has four goals in two state playoff games and offensive standouts Julia Christian, Alicia Carr, Kelsey Reznick and Hannah Maxwell all boast big-play ability in Sem’s attack.
“I think it’s how many people we have scoring,” Klassner said. “It’s very hard to key in on one or two players. It seems like when someone isn’t playing well, someone else on the team steps up.”
Valley West is much the same way.
Freshmen Karaline Stelma and Cameron Forgash have been unstoppable forces in states, while Foto and Rina Tsioles have made a habit of cashing in on opportunities in the circle all season. Don’t forget about Jasterzenski, a Hofstra-bound senior and a 15-goal scorer during the regular season. And Woods, headed to Penn after playing as an ace defender during her senior season, is a converted forward who hasn’t lost her shooter’s touch.
“It’s just the whole unity of our team,” Fithian said. “This team is a true team. They have each other’s backs. They’re just going to keep playing for each other. We have people stepping up and scoring for us.
“And they don’t want their season to end.”
Both teams rely heavily on strong defenses and glitzy goaltending.
Sem does it with freshman Mia Magnotta protecting the cage, and has allowed just one goal — each coming in the final five minutes — during four of the team’s five postseason games (the other was a 2-0 shutout of Lake-Lehman in the District 2 title game).
Valley West will double-team you, with Nikki Hartel and Sydney Rusnock splitting halves of games and both putting up save percentages of over .915.
“We’ve got several key seniors on defense and our two goalies have been spectacular,” Fithian said. “They’re so identical, it’s just amazing. They compliment each other.”
None of the Spartans or Blue Knights have played in a state game where the stakes are this high, though.
They both want to prove it may not matter much.
“I think we’re inexperienced in the sense we have been in the (state) playoffs (before this season),” said Klassner, who has taken previous Sem squads to eight state finals. “But we’ve played a very strong schedule. Going to New Jersey to play Eastern (Voorhees) and Sacred Heart from Kentucky and Selinsgrove, we’ve had a very competive season outside our league. And I don’t think people realize how much your league schedule helps you when you get into states.
“Valley West and us being left (from the WVC), we know our competition’s going to be very tough,” Klassner continued. “It’s difficult just to get out of your league.”