It is hard to even name a favorite to win heading into the 2021 Lancaster-Lebanon League field hockey tournament, which opens with Saturday’s quarterfinal action.
After all, the league just capped an outstanding season of close competition, with three of the four sections having been decided by one game in the standings.
Katy Eby, who coaches Section Three champion Garden Spot, said that with the talent spread out among the entire league, the tourney is wide open this year.
“It has been fun seeing lots of different teams have equal success this year during the regular season,” she said. “Every game could be won by really anyone.”
Donegal coach Gina Allessie agreed, saying with the field being so even, it's easy to motivate her players.
"Any team can win on a given day," she said. "It gives them confidence going into the game because they know they can be competitive going in. The L-L is really strong this year. All the games are really competitive. Every game is a battle."
After winning Section Three, Eby said her team will not take anything for granted, especially opening against defending champion Penn Manor, which has won three of the last four league tourney titles.
Behind a stellar defense and goalkeeper Bryna Kelly, the Spartans allowed only 14 goals, second-lowest in the league this season.
“We will approach it one game at a time. We are excited to be playing,” she said. “Our strength is defense and we know this will aid in keeping each game close.”
With her team coming off an 11-4 regular season, Annville-Cleona coach Carrie Gingrich is hoping to keep it going against Section One champion, top seed Manheim Township.
“We are using it as a great opportunity to get ready for playoffs,” she said. “We know what a great team Township is and are honored to be able to play against them, being the small school that we are.”
Coaches agree that the increased league competition will help them prepare for the District Three playoffs.
“Section Three was so competitive this year, every game was a great game, which will help us hopefully go far in district playoffs,” said Annville-Cleona coach Carrie Gingrich.
“We have been competing for the win each game,” Eby added. “No games were guaranteed wins, so it has helped us stay competitive all season.”
The tourney is back to an eight-team field after 2020 was reduced to four because of COVID-19 delaying the start of that season.
Saturday’s quarterfinal matches
Penn Manor (12-4) at Garden Spot (13-3), 10 a.m. — Penn Manor finished second in Section One and will have to face the Section Three champion Spartans. Both teams are outstanding in the midfield and backend. In addition to Garden Spot’s 14 goals allowed, the Comets gave up only 15.
Players to watch: Penn Manor goalkeeper CC Charles made 79 saves this season while Riley Robinson (7 goals) and Grace Gerner (6) lead the Comets offense. Garden Spot has a trio leading the offense with Erin Gonzalez, who not only had 10 goals, but nine assists. Lauren Horning scored a team-high 13 goals and Melanie Esh added eight.
Donegal (9-6-1) at Lancaster Mennonite (14-1), 2 p.m. — Donegal finished second in Section Two. The Indians' reward for a solid season is taking on the Blazers, who dominated their way to a Section Four crown as the only team that went unbeaten in section play. The Blazers led the LL in scoring 70 goals and goals against with 13.
Players to watch: Emma Miller scored 12 goals for Donegal, accounting for 42 percent of the Indians offense. Keeper CC Emswiler was solid all season. Maya Habacivich led the league with 22 goals for Lancaster Mennonite. Ellie Lefever added 13 and Rebecca Lane had 12 to go with 14 assists.
Annville-Cleona (11-4) at Manheim Township (11-6), 2 p.m. — Marvelous two-way play keyed Township to the title in an extremely competitive Section One. AC was better than advertised when the season started and just kept getting better with a goal differential of plus-30 with 47 for and 17 against.
Players to watch: Township’s junior keeper, Maddi Eckert, is stingy when it comes to allowing goals — 17 this season. The Streaks offense is balanced with Zoe Arcudi notching nine goals and Breanna Campagna adding eight. Annville’s Grace Francis can flat out play, as her team-leading 14 goals and teammate Josie Clay added nine.
Northern Lebanon (6-9) at Ephrata (13-3), 7 p.m. — Section Two champion Ephrata is ready as a deep section readied the Mountaineers for a postseason run. While the Vikings, who finished second place in Section Four, enter the tourney with a below .500 record, it is a whole new season and knocking off the No. 2 seed would be quite a way to start things off.
Players to watch: Senior Mallory Kline and sophomore Claudia Pfautz lead Ephrata. Kline posted a 13-goal, nine-assist season while Pfautz added 12 goals and four helpers. Keeper Annika Galen chipped in 74 saves. Northern Lebanon goalie Cala Martino was busy most of the time as she made nearly 100 saves on the campaign. Anna Kolacek led the team with five goals.