LEHMAN TWP. — Smack in the middle of a serious mission, Wyoming Valley West goalie Sydney Rusnock came to a sudden realization during another foray into the Keystone State Games.
“It’s really fun,” Rusnock said.
That’s the charm of the Games for Northeastern Pennsylvania’s field hockey players.
While they vow to play with passion and pride during a quest to show the rest of Pennsylvania where the top talent in the sport really lies, there’s also an underlying reality.
The chase for a long-sought gold medal in the Keystone Games sometimes gives way to golden smiles.
“I like all of them,” Lake-Lehman junior Madeline Newman said of her teammates on the Pocono 1 team, which will represent the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area when field hockey play opens Friday. “I’ve known most of them from playing against them. This gives you a chance to meet with them and be more of a team.
“Everyone on the team gets along well.”
That may seem somewhat of a surprise, since players from the Pocono 1 and Pocono 2 high school division teams will go back to battling against each other tooth and nail in little more than a month.
But for now, players from Wyoming Valley Conference powers like Wyoming Seminary, Wyoming Valley West, Crestwood and Lake-Lehman are bonded together by a big quest.
“We’re going to try to get gold this year,” said Karaline Stelma, a dangerous scorer from Valley West. “We’ve done well, got second a few times. We’re sick of getting second.
“Sick and tired of second place.”
That seems to be a sore spot for some Pocono Region players.
Wyoming Seminary standout Aubrey Mytych figures to be a main cog for a Pocono 1 team chasing gold, and when the 2018-19 school year starts, plans to help the Blue Knights avenge last year’s PIAA Class A championship loss that left her with another silver medal. She’ll be right at home — quite literally — playing at Wyoming Seminary’s Klassner Field and the school’s stadium, where all the Keystone Games field hockey competition will be held.
Likewise, Stelma scored Valley West’s only goal of the team’s Class 2A state championship loss and Rusnock shared goaltending duties each game of a fabulous 2017 field hockey season that ended with a PIAA silver medal for the Spartans. They’ll be looking to help the Pocono 1 team walk out of the Keystone Games on top.
“Especially for us, from Valley West, we were just there,” Rusnock said of the high-stakes tournament. “We’ve been playing against these girls in the state playoffs. Now we’ll see them again.”
They’ll also see some familiar faces from earlier Keystone Games days.
Since field hockey is a tryout sport, some players who were in camp and didn’t make the cut for the Pocono 1 team will end up representing the region’s other team, called Pocono 2. Both Pocono teams will square off against each other on opening day, at 4:15 p.m. Friday on Sem’s stadium turf after playing earlier games against other opponents that day.
Pocono 1 coach and the region’s field hockey director, Jean Lipski of Lake-Lehman, believes her driven group is ready to turn things up a notch when the three-day Keystone Games tourney runs through Sunday’s gold medal game at 4:15 p.m. at Klassner Field and bronze medal game at 3:30 p.m. at the same site.
“I think they take great pride in representing the Pocono Region and want to win for that reason,” said Lipski, who has taken Lehman to four consecutive District 2 championship games and four straight PIAA appearances — including a spot in the state semifinals in 2016.
Sounds as if they also want to win for each other.
“It’s just a good way to get together and meet new people when you’re playing,” Rusnock said. “A lot of us actually played together during indoor season.”
Call it one last laugh before the intensity turns up on the high school season.
“Just a fun thing to do,” Stelma said. “It’s something to keep us going, right before the (league) season starts. It’s kind of more relaxed, but still serious, to a point.”
After all, there are big games to be played against teams from other regions of the state and a big goal waiting at the end of the games.
“We get second every year,” Rusnock said. “Everyone wants to change that.”
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski