EXETER – The return of players with high school accomplishments in their past and major college opportunities in their future makes for a sense of excitement around the Wyoming Area field hockey team.
Bree Bednarski and Emilie Wanko both earned all-state recognition last year when the Warriors posted their first winning season ever, clinching that accomplishment early on the way to a 12-6-1 overall record.
Bednarski, Wanko and Grace Gober have all committed to play National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I field hockey in the future.
Adding to the encouraging signs are six other returning starters and a key substitute from the team that went 10-4-1 in the tough Division 3 of the Wyoming Valley Conference, finishing 2 ½ games behind state quarterfinalist Lake-Lehman and Holy Redeemer.
In recent seasons, Wyoming Area has closed the gap on Crestwood, Wyoming Seminary and Lake-Lehman, conference opponents that each have multiple state championships and dozens of state playoff appearances in their history.
“I think over the last couple years, they’ve started believing they belong with those teams,” second-year Warriors coach Chris Comiskey said. “This year, you’re starting to see it. When we played teams in (scrimmages), there was just a different feel.
“That’s one of the hardest things, getting them to feel they belong with these higher-echelon teams.”
Bednarski, a Michigan recruit, is back at center forward after providing 41 goals and 11 assists last season and spending a year with the USA Field Hockey Under-17 National Team. She was a first-team Class AA all-state selection after receiving honorable mention as a sophomore.
Wanko followed Bednarski’s lead. The center midfielder was honorable mention all-state as a sophomore and committed last weekend to continue her playing career at Old Dominion University. She is just starting her junior season.
Gober, a senior center back, is headed to Temple University.
While Bednarski, Wanko and Gober give Wyoming Area strength in the middle, they should be able to count on plenty of help.
Junior Jillian Spak and senior Hayley Johnson are back at forwards. Spak is on the right side while Johnson, who moved into the lineup late last season, is on the left.
Wanko is joined at midfield by two more juniors, returning starter Madison Beppler and Lindsey Feeney, a key substitute a year ago.
Gober is one of three returning starters at the four back positions. Senior Gianna Gennetts and junior Madison Mulhurn also return. They are being joined by freshman Bayli Grossi.
Junior Katie Wolfgang returns at goalie, but while she misses some early time with an injury there could be some lineup juggling to replace her.
Senior forward Laura Heinzlmeir and freshman midfielder Abby Gober, Grace’s sister, provide depth.
That depth showed in Wednesday’s opener when Wyoming Area blasted Berwick, 13-0, with eight players scoring goals.
Bednarski and Wanko each had hat tricks while playing half the game.
Gennetts scored twice. Heinzlmeir, Feeney, Abby Gober, Madison Johnson and Ally Bresnahan also scored.
Wyoming Area’s defense allowed just one shot and did not yield a penalty corner.
The Warriors were scheduled for an early test Saturday morning at Lake-Lehman.