‘There was no pressure,’ athletes and coaches talk about their experiences playing at the first PA Field Hockey Senior Cup

Many players who competed in the PA Field Hockey Senior Cup last weekend received well-deserved ovations and applause for their efforts, but Marissa Rice, a Lampeter-Strasburg senior playing for Team Lancaster, received more than most players, maybe even all of them.


When Rice’s name and high school were announced before Sunday afternoon’s championship game versus Team Hershey, Rice received a loud round of applause from about a dozen young women sitting behind Lancaster’s bench area.


The cheers came from players on the Kutztown University team, which won the NCAA Division II national championship last November.


Rice is a Kutztown commit. Her future teammates were there to help promote and support the game, so they took advantage of the opportunity to cheer for someone they will know better in a few months.


Rice’s team for the weekend, Lancaster, twice had one-goal leads over Hershey, but Hershey prevailed 3-2 in overtime when Downingtown East senior Nia Massey scored with a little over five minutes left in OT.


*The 2023 NCAA Division II champions standing during the National Anthem at the PA Senior Cup Championship Game. Photo: John Pavoncello


Yes, teams won and lost in the inaugural tournament, which featured eight regional teams from around Pennsylvania. Despite some rain that delayed Saturday’s schedule, every team – Reading, Allentown, Philadelphia North, Philadelphia South, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh were the others –played three times on the first day.


Lancaster, coached by Manheim Central’s Morgan Briggs, and Hershey, coached by Downingtown West’s Courtney MacPherson, were the last two teams standing. They played in the first round Saturday, and the scoring went exactly as it did Sunday, minus the overtime: Lancaster went up 1-0. Hershey tied it. Lancaster went up 2-1. Hershey tied it.


The difference on Sunday was that overtime was necessary to determine a champion. Both sides made inroads toward the other team’s goal, and either side could have won it, but Massey, playing for Downingtown East’s rival – MacPherson of Downingtown West – got the game-winner.


Massey has played club hockey for MacPherson, so perhaps “rival” is not the right word here.


“I love [MacPherson],” Massey said. “She was my club coach for a little bit. She’s super nice. There’s no bad blood or anything between the rivals.”


“This was such a fun thing to be a part of,” MacPherson said. “It was really fun for the girls to get one last opportunity to play with each other and see elite players. We started connecting well with each other in the second game. Going to overtime was just exciting for both teams obviously, it’s good to come out with a win, but it was a fun weekend overall.”


Because each team was filled with players from roughly the same region, the dynamic of rivalries changed for the weekend. Everyone,  it seemed, put past battles behind and had fun for the weekend.


“It was full of fun” Rice said, and not just because she had the support of her future college teammates. “There was no pressure on us. We could just go out and do our skills we’re not used to doing. We could just go out and have fun with no pressure. We’re all here to get better.”


*Athletes on Team Hershey and Lancaster battle for the ball in the first PA Field Hockey Senior Cup Championship Game on March 24, 2024. Photo: John Pavoncello


Lancaster’s goalie, Hannah Popolis of Ephrata, echoed Rice’s comments.


“It was super fun,” said Popolis, a James Madison University recruit. “All of us played for rival schools. We had to come together. It was fun coming together and representing the Lancaster-Lebanon League. Coach Briggs said that this was a very skilled team. We were, too. I think if we had another couple minutes (in regulation), we could have ended it in regulation either way. It was a good time playing again. We were very competitive.”


Like all coaches, Briggs did not have a lot of time to work with her team. She just made sure that everyone got in, competed and had a good time. The last of those three objectives was easy.


“This is an awesome event,” she said. “It was so fun for these girls to play together. They hadn’t played together before, probably at all. To see them come together quickly and mold together was awesome to watch. Our team, along with Hershey’s team, was super-talented. It was a great weekend of hockey.”


In some ways, the players were used to this type of event. Most, maybe all, of them play on club teams with high school opponents. Blood rivals one season, teammates the next.


“It was really fun,” Massey said. “When I got the invitation, my friends and I were really excited. It was really cool coming together with all these girls that are committed to Division I, Division II, Division III colleges. We just played and had fun to finish off our high school career.


“The girls were all super nice. We all clicked pretty well. At first, we didn’t know everyone’s playing style, but as it went on, we naturally became a team. This was a lot more fun. There wasn’t really any pressure. You just played with other people who liked field hockey.”


Tim Shoemaker is a freelance writer.

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