Double the roster, double the possibilities.
After Andrea Carr inherited the field hockey program at the brand new Pope John Paul II High School in Upper Providence Township, she could hardly believe her eyes on the first day of tryouts.
Formerly the coach at recently-closed Kennedy-Kenrick High School in Norristown, Carr was accustomed to seeing about 25 players on the initial day of practice. But on the first day at John Paul II, she saw 54.
The teacher at Royersford’s Sacred Heart Elementary School did a double-take . . . literally.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?'” said Carr, who coached Kennedy-Kenrick for eight seasons, highlighted by a Catholic League championship in 2008. “We had 18 freshmen and 21 sophomores. It was a great problem to have, but I was wondering where we could put all of these girls.”
Desiring not to cut anyone, John Paul II separated the horde of hopefuls into three levels – varsity, junior varsity and freshmen. From a developmental point of view, the strategy should pay major spanidends down the road.
Actually, it already has. Despite struggling to an 0-2 start, the Golden Panthers are 5-6 overall (through Oct. 4) and 4-4 in the Pioneer Athletic Conference (PAC), including impressive victories over powerful Owen J. Roberts and Methacton. Four of their wins have come via shutout.
It is conceivable that in their first year of existence, the Golden Panthers could perhaps qualify for the post-season PIAA tournament. But that’s a bit premature.
“We are playing well and more importantly, we are getting better all the time,” said Carr. “Any time a whole new group starts working together, it takes time. You have to be patient.”
Carr was a former standout field hockey and lacrosse player at Chestnut Hill College, class of 1979. She can hardly believe how much both sports have evolved since her playing days.
“Back then you played for a few months, now it’s all year long,” Carr said. “Clinics, weekends, in-door tournaments … it’s not just during the season. Some of the stick work today is unbelievable. There are some really talented players out there.”
Among John Paul II’s prime time athletes, senior midfielder Maria Mastracola is arguably the Golden Panthers’ top all-around field hockey performer. A graduate of Visitation B.V.M. School in Trooper, Mastracola plays midfielder.
If the Panthers focus on defense, Mastracola can squash the other team’s best scorer. If John Paul needs offense, Mastracola becomes an immediate threat.
“She does everything,” Carr said. “At that point of the game, she gives you whatever your team needs most. She’s super dependable.”
Mastracola is one of several former players transplanted from Kennedy-Kenrick. There are just as many former players from also-closed St. Pius X in Pottstown.
Among them are forwards Lex Versak and Kira Shollenberger. Versak has been one of John Paul II’s most consistent scorers, while Shollenberger provided a dramatic overtime goal that helped stun favored Methacton 3-2 Sept. 28.
A parishioner and graduate of St. Mary’s in Schwenksville, Shollenberger is a senior who admits to being initially blindsided by having to choose a high school to attend for only one year before graduating. She says that her emotions have settled and she now feels like a member of a new community.
“It was definitely an adjustment being in a whole new setting,” Shollenberger said. “I kind of felt like a freshman again. But it helped knowing a lot of girls who came over from St. Pius, and playing field hockey helped balance things out.
“In a way it’s a good preparation for college because you have to get used to things when it is time to leave. And a really special thing is being part of the school’s first graduating class.”
Versak said having two years to adjust is a huge advantage over having only one.
“You get a chance to bond and then you can enjoy it a little longer,” said Versak, a parishioner at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Limerick.
“It’s very different having so many students, but I like that about John Paul II. Most of the students are from Kennedy-Kenrick and St. Piu,s and everyone seems to be getting along really well.”
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.