Moments after her Wyoming Seminary team sewed up a ninth trip to the state finals, long-time Blue Knights coach Karen Klassner was breathless.
“I need a moment to rest,” Klassner gasped. “I’m getting too old for this.
“But it doesn’t get old.”
A young and invigorating Sem squad will be looking for the school’s seventh state title — but first since 2013 — when the 22-2 Blue Knights face 21-5 Greenwood in the PIAA Class A championship game at 10 a.m. at Whitehall’s Zephyr Complex.
And while a lot has been made about Greenwood’s inexperience as the school makes its first appearance in a PIAA field hockey title game, this current crop of Blue Knights is treading into uncharted waters as well.
“I wasn’t ever there before,” said Sem junior forward Aubrey Mytych, the team’s leading scorer, who has nine goals and five assists in six postseason games. “I’m so happy I get to go with the girls on my team.”
Those girls have out-gunned three state opponents by a combined score of 15-2 and have out-scored six playoff opponents, 42-4. Yet, none of them know what it’s like to play in a state final.
Sem’s last appearance in a PIAA tournament came the last time the program polished off a state title in 2013 — before any of the current players reached high school.
“They’re a very young team, they haven’t been there before,” Klassner said of Greenwood, a suprising state finalist that entered states as the District 3 No. 3 team. “But this group has not been there. It’s this group’s first time in a state championship.”
The Blue Knights figure they may as well just keep doing what brought them there.
That means playing lock-down defense, which resulted in 2-0 shutouts of Lake-Lehman in the District 2 Class A title game and against District 3 champion Oley Valley — Max Field Hockey’s No. 13 team in the nation and No. 8 in the Pennsylvania/New Jersey Region — during an emotional state semifinal win Tuesday.
While the Blue Knights bring a slew of scorers, including Mytych, Alex Wesneski, Kelsey Reznick, Alicia Carr and Hannah Maxwell, their defensive unit has been every bit as impressive.
Reznick shut down Oley Valley’s dangerous Sophia Gladeux in the PIAA semifinals, while seniors Emily Sims and Camryn Litjens — who returned from illness late in the regular season — have consistently clogged passing lanes and stripped away opportunities from opponents.
That’s made things easier for freshman goalie Mia Magnotta, who has put up an outstanding rookie season in the cage.
Sem hasn’t allowed more than one goal in any postseason game, and all of them came in the final five minutes after the outcome had long been decided.
“Emily Sims has played very well,” Klassner said. “Camryn Litjens is finally healthy, that helps us. They’ve given Mia confidence. I really feel Mia has gained a lot of confidence in her playing abilities.”
Those abilities will be tested by Greenwood junior Paityn Wirth, the Tri-Valley League’s MVP, who boasts a league-leading 58 points and 25 goals. She’s complemented by hard-nosed defenders Courtney Fleisher and Grace Lesh, who took the school’s field hockey and basketball coach, Kent Houser, to his first-ever state final.
But the Wyoming Valley Conference Division 1 and District 2 Class A champion Blue Knights gained even more self-certainty by upending an Oley Valley team that was on a 24-game winning streak and downed Greenwood in the District 3 semifinals.
That doesn’t necessarily mean an automatic victory for Sem in the state finals.
“I’ve been there where we beat a team maybe we shouldn’t have at times,” Klassner said. “You’re talking about a coach who’s been the first win for people (opponents). I’ve seen both sides of the coin. We respect everyone we play.
“The kids just played an all-around great game (against Oley Valley),” Klassner continued. “They played the game of their life.
“I said to them, ‘You’ve got to have one more.’ ”