Field hockey returns a lot of varsity experience
Sue Butz-Stavin hasn’t become the winningest field hockey coach in the country by overestimating the talent that she assembles each season.
Every season is different for her and she approaches them all with an understated confidence in her team. Through 30 straight District 11 championships and 12 state titles, the approach has remained the same.
“I think we’ll be competitive in the conference and in the district and we’ll try to make a run at states,” said Sue Butz-Stavin as she looked ahead to the upcoming season. “We lost a handful of key players. We had seven seniors and six were active players last year.”
Emmaus, which finished last season at 26-1, has five returning players from last year’s starting lineup and, as in other years, has replacements pretty well set to step into expanded roles for this season.
One of the Hornets’ key returning players is junior Annika Herbine, who was one of five players, and the only underclassman, from Emmaus that earned a place on the Pennsylvania High School Field Hockey Coaches Association All-State Team last season.
Herbine finished last season second on the team in goals (45), assists (28) and points (118) and will be helping to anchor the offense for the Hornets.
“We have a lot of varsity game experience,” said Butz-Stavin. “I believe you might see some players in different roles, because what we do in preseason is try to pick out the top 13 or 14 girls and then try to find a position where we mesh well on the field.
“We’ll see two younger players on the field from the beginning in Rachel Herbine and Abby Burnette. We’ll look to see the adjustment to playing in a varsity role and maturity-wise, can they play against a senior player. I think they have enough game experience, but there will be moments mentality-wise in how they react and how they handle situations.”
Last season, Emmaus made it to the state semifinals where they fell to Hershey 5-3. Butz-Stavin is seeing an uptick in the quality of the competition that her teams face in the Lehigh Valley and beyond. After the high school season, players compete in offseason tournaments and the national indoor events, which run from December through March. Once spring and summer roll around, there’s the National Club Championships, Summer Bash and Keystone Games, all of which lead to increasing the talent pool for the sport.
She credits the growth of field hockey into what is now truly a year-round sport for the increase in talent and interest in the game.
“Across the board you have more and more girls playing club field hockey and you have a good percentage of kids who are participating in U.S. Field Hockey Futures and have moved on into their selection process, which is the ladder to be a national team player,” said Butz-Stavin. “With kids having more club experience, that means they have a hockey stick in their hand year-round.”
Locally, Butz-Stavin pointed to players like Liberty’s Rayne Wright, Pocono Mountain East’s Jaiden Wittel and Easton’s Riley McDonald, Lanie Stem and Olivia Watson as players who can be big difference makers for their team.
As far as the EPC is concerned, there’s no lack of teams ready to take a shot at knocking off the Hornets.
“I heard over the summer that Pocono Mountain East was one of the top teams, along with Stroudsburg, so they’ll be interesting,” said Butz-Stavin. “You can never rule out Parkland, and Northampton has a lot of great incoming freshmen who have been playing hockey the last three years, so they have a nice, little unit. With all of the players that Easton is returning, including their goalkeeper, they’ll have a good team. There’s a lot of talent out there.”
Emmaus will be ready to go when the season opens Friday at Nazareth, who reached the EPC playoffs last season with a 13-7 record last season. The Hornets first home game of the season is Tuesday against Whitehall (6-12 last season).
“We’ve been working diligently and have a great group of kids and we’ve got a great supporting role in our next group of kids,” said Butz-Stavin. “We’re all here to push each other and make each other and the team better.”