When Cindy Telenko returned as head coach of the Elizabethtown Area High School field hockey team after nearly 20 years away from the program, she knew that it would take time to build the Lady Bears back up into a competitor. Growing pains in her first season back were expected, and while the team got better as the season went along, the end results were less than satisfying.
Elizabethtown finished 3-14-1 in 2018, with two of the victories coming vs. McCaskey. The Lady Bears opened the year with seven straight losses, though they did go 2-2 in their final four contests. Much of the season was focused on developing the younger players who were receiving their first taste of varsity action. Now, the team is hoping to start playing more competitively.
“We’re definitely heading in the right direction,” Coach Telenko said. “The two seniors we lost were great leaders, but they weren’t our best players. A lot of it is gonna from this group of seniors. Once we get rolling, we’ll be able to see the things we want to work on. It’s mostly just defensive mark and scoring.”
The aforementioned seniors, Liz Ortiz and Jenna Brinkman, performed well as team captains, though they didn’t leave much of an impact statistically (Ortiz had one goal, a game-winner in overtime during the second game against McCaskey, while Brinkman had one assist). On the other hand, the rest of the team was lacking on offense; the Lady Bears had just 8 goals on the season; four came from then-freshman Jessie Zimmerman, who decided not to play this year.
The bright side is that Elizabethtown now has a senior class of eight players, seven of whom started last season. Forward Mackenzie Hammaker was one of five girls who scored a goal in 2018; she had led the team with 9 goals in her sophomore season. Cat Duncan, Emily Epps and Ivy Loy each flashed as distributors on offense, while Alyssa Hamilton earned a Section Two All-Star nod on defense, notching 11 defensive saves. Haley Hoffman will join her there as well.
“They played just about every game,” Coach Telenko said. “With the exception of Jessie, there’s a core group of girls that played varsity who are coming back. They’ve been working hard all offseason. We had a camp here during the summer, and the guest coaches (mentioned) that they found it hard to believe that we only won three games last year.”
Arguably the top players for the Lady Bears last year were the goalkeeping duo of Mackenzie Atticks and Alaina Telenko (Cindy’s daughter). The former is a senior who stepped into the cage for the first time as a junior, finishing with 68 saves. The latter was excellent as a freshman, topping Atticks with 90 saves. The two were comparable to some of the better goalies in the Lancaster-Lebanon League, impressive considering that their playing time was split in half.
“Mackenzie obviously hasn’t been goalkeeping as long, but she played with Nook Academy this year, so she got a lot of touches,” Coach Telenko said. “She was steady in regard to summer practices. Alaina did some clinics with (Team USA goalkeeper) Jess Jecko, so that’ll definitely help her conditioning. They were up there with kids who were playing all 18 games.”
Among the underclassmen, junior forwards Alisa Alvarez and Sophie Brinkman got a ton of playing time in 2018, as did junior Brooke Horst and sophomore Hailey Mertz in the midfield. Juniors Gabriella Pistone and Makenna Heisey will aid Hamilton and Hoffman on defense as well. In all, 14 of the Lady Bears on this year’s roster saw varsity action last season.
“I think just talking more and understanding the communication and passing across the cage is where we’ve improved,” Coach Telenko said. “The seniors want to take so many shots per game. We’ve been focusing on the basics but also expanding our understanding of the game.”
One thing that may hold Elizabethtown back is the talent in the rest of Section Two. Donegal, who won the Class 2A titles in both District 3 and the state as a whole last year, is the top dog as always, but Manheim Central, Lampeter-Strasburg and Garden Spot all reached the district playoffs too. The Lady Bears did receive a boost in confidence during the offseason after competing well in Palmyra’s indoor league at In the Net (the Cougars were the state runner-ups to Donegal in Class 2A) against better competition.
“Their goal is to win 50 percent of the games,” Coach Telenko said. “I think that’s a little low, but within our section, it’s tough, and compared to three wins last season, it’s progress. Being junior heavy last year will help us. We played a lot of strong teams in Palmyra’s indoor league, and you can just tell that they’re cooking.”
In the end, however, Elizabethtown’s primary goal is just doing better than last season. That’s a definite possibility, considering the graduation hits that the rest of Section Two has taken. The Lady Bears can’t be eyeing other squads though. They’ll have to focus on improving their skills if they want to avoid being overlooked.
“I’m not one of the coaches who will stalk other teams to see how they’re doing,” Coach Telenko said. That’s why I try not to put too much weight on it. We just have all this talent, so we have to focus on how we develop. They all have positive attitudes, and I just want it to be fun for them.”