North Xtra: Pine-Richland returns to playoffs

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A year ago a loss in its regular-season finale cost Pine-Richland a chance to qualify for the postseason.

For head coach Jodi Chmielewski, who has only missed the playoffs three times in her 16-year tenure, it was an unfamiliar feeling

With only a handful of players still around from the 2011 season and with seven new starters, the Pine-Richland players will be in store for an unfamiliar feeling this October, a trip to the playoffs. The Rams have wrapped up their regular season with a 11-5-2 record and 7-4-1 record in Class AAA Section 2 to finish third.

Third-place section finishers usually draw a section champion in the first round and the Rams could prove to be one of the toughest first-round draws for a section champ.

"I think hopefully we are going to be a tough draw, anywhere we are seeded," Chmielewski said. "I think the WPIAL as a whole is wide open."

Pine-Richland has produced quite a few quality results in non-section action. It opened the season with three consecutive road wins at Knoch, Greensburg Central Catholic and Penn-Trafford.

Pine-Richland began section play with a 2-2 record but then caught fire and went 5-1-1 down the stretch to clinch a playoff berth.

"I think the goal for us is to win the section [title]. It is a little bit of an unfamiliar position to finish third," Chmielewski said. "Based on the amount of starters we graduated, I am still very, very pleased with the results."

Even for a program with a rich postseason tradition such as Pine-Richland, making the playoffs is still an exciting accomplishment, especially after the disappointment last season.

"Not being there last year had a big impact on our returning players, it was definitely hard sitting home last season," Chmielewski said.

"It definitely made them hungrier to get back. We have a lot of kids, this is their first experience. They may have only been freshmen and been on JV the last time we made it, so it is neat. It is a new kind of excitement for this group."

It is easy to see where the strength of this Pine-Richland team is, based both on the results and by all-section voting. The Rams shut out six teams and held five other teams to one goal this season.

Junior goalie Leah Roth is a new starter, taking over for Haley Wessel who graduated. Wessel was named an all-section goalkeeper the past two seasons and Roth continued that tradition this year also being named to the all-section team.

"Leah is one of the top goalies in the WPIAL," Chmielewski said. "She sort of had to wait her turn behind Haley. She plays on a high level for her Cup team and in terms of starting for high school, it was a goal of hers. For her to be able to take the reins and be that number one keeper was important.

"She is a very vocal keeper, she has done a very nice job and continues the strong tradition we have had at goalie."

Roth has had the luxury of playing behind two all-section center backs, junior Katie Graszl and senior Marissa Hombosky. Graszl and Hombosky are two of four returning starters on the team along with junior central midfielder Catherine Eichenlaub and senior Maggie Shope.

"We are having a lot of fun this season," Hombosky said. "It hurt last year not making the playoffs because we had so many returning players. This year we were so determined and we wouldn't let anything stand in our way. We didn't want it to come down to someone else having to win. We wanted to control our destiny."

Junior Ali Johanson saw some starting time last season and is starting as an outside midfielder. Shope was playing as a forward and outside midfielder but moved to defense late in the season after an injury to starting defender freshman Mallory Hurt. Freshman Chrissy Ciarrocca is a starting outside defender.

Freshman forward Amanda Kalin has enjoyed a breakout season, leading the team in scoring. Senior forward Erin Rodgers is the second leading scorer on the team and the Rams have also gotten scoring from junior midfielder Sara Caligiuri and Eichenlaub.


First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM


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