In its illustrious field hockey history, Shady Side Academy has won 13 WPIAL Class AA championships, but none may have been more satisfying than the most recent one captured last week when the third-seeded Indians rallied from a one-goal deficit to defeat top-seeded Winchester Thurston, 2-1, with one minute left in overtime.
That victory followed a 2-1 semifinal victory against The Ellis School that was decided by penalty strokes, the sport's version of penalty kicks in soccer.
"There's a different team each year, and they had to learn how to play together to pull off these wins," Indians coach Erin Weir said.
Her team finished the season 9-8-2 after Tuesday's PIAA Class AA first-round game against District 5 champion Forbes Road. The Indians lost to the team from Fulton County, 5-1.
Balance has keyed the Indians' scoring this season.
Senior forward Zoe Wecht had nine goals entering the PIAA tournament, while sophomore forward Sarah Anania was next with seven goals. Junior forward Marjorie Crimmins and sophomore forward/midfielder Quinn Wilojanapa have each scored six goals.
"It's nice to have balanced scoring," Weir said. "Everyone has the potential to score and has done so for us."
In the regular season, Ellis played the Indians to a scoreless tie and won the other, 3-2. The results were even worse for Shady Side against Winchester Thurston as the Bears swept both regular-season meetings by scores of 1-0 and 3-2.
As the two-time defending champion, Shady Side Academy was used to playing first-round games at its stadium. But as the No. 3 seed, the Indians knew a road trip would be in their plans. The site for their game with The Ellis School was Sewickley Academy's Frick Field, which has an artificial turf.
The venue, however, is not lighted. Under rainy skies that were rapidly turning darker, the two teams selected five players apiece to execute the penalty strokes,
Soccer players may take a run up before striking the ball. Field hockey players, however, may not take a back swing, and Weir said there is a definite skill to successfully executing a penalty stroke.
"You have to be confident, accurate and generate a lot of power from your legs," she said.
In the victory against Ellis, senior defender Gigi Ruppel and freshman Colby Poerio successfully steered the ball past Ellis goalie Claire Akers.
"I didn't teach Colby her penalty stroke," Weir said. "She already knew how to do that when she came to school here."
When the Indians tied the championship game with Winchester Thurston on a second-half goal by sophomore forward Sarah Anania, Weir said the memory of the overtime game with Ellis was fresh in her mind and that of her players.
"We were losing, and we needed to tie the game," Weir said. "But we never had a sense of relief because Winchester was a good team, and they pushed us for the entire game."
Another sophomore midfielder, Corby Wolfe, was able to get just enough of her stick on the ball and direct it past Winchester Thurston goalie Anastasia Landman, who had come out of the cage, leaving a wide-open goal.
The ball rolled slowly before settling into the goal, just inside the near post.
"I just sent Corby into the game, and she had fresh legs," Weir said. "She didn't have much on the ball, and when she hit it, I thought it was going out of bounds. But she was at the perfect angle and brought it back into the cage."
Regardless of Tuesday's loss in the state tournament, the future appears to be bright for the Indians. Of the 21 players on the Indians' playoff roster, 17 will return next season.