Christine Krempa and some of her fellow coaches started up the Johnstown youth field hockey program several years ago with the idea that it would someday show dividends at the high school level.
That’s happened, and in a big way.
“Since third grade, we’ve been telling them they can be champions,” Krempa, Johnstown’s varsity coach, said. “It’s right there for them to grab.”
With the Section II title that eluded the team last year in hand, and with two regional wins secured, Johnstown will go after its first state championship since 1990 in this weekend’s Class C final four at Alden High School in Western New York.
Johnstown (19-0) will meet Carle Place (Section VIII, 8-7) Saturday at 10 a.m. in the first semifinal, and Bronxville (Section I, 15-3-2) will take on Barker (Section VI, 17-3) in the next at 11:45 a.m. Sunday’s title game is set for 10 a.m.
“These girls came up through the program, and a big chunk of them play year ’round,” Krempa said of her cast that includes nine juniors to go along with a trio of seniors. “Being the first group we had, it would mean the world to them.”
Krempa and several others with close ties to the program know the exhilaration of winning a state title. Krempa was a sophomore on the 1990 state Class B title-winning team and helped the Lady Bills get back there in 1991. Johnstown also won state Class B crowns in 1989 and, before that, consecutively in 1983-84.
“We’ve got a bunch of kids whose moms won state titles,” Krempa said. “It’s in the blood.”
In the regionals, Johnstown beat Camden in overtime 2-1 and Green 2-1 to reach its first final four since a 2-0 Class A semifinal loss to Whitney Point in 1997. Duke commit Taryn Ringer scored both goals against Camden off assists by Kalena Eaton, and Ringer and Anna Lee scored against Greene.
Ringer (42-10), Lee (15-16) and Eaton (12-12) are Johnstown’s leading point producers, while Emily Fleming (6-11) is its top midfield playmaker.
“You can’t win games like this with one superstar,” Krempa said. “You need the whole team. They’ve all stepped up and done their part, and we’ll need that again.”
Krempa couldn’t say enough good things about goalkeeper Abby VanValkenburgh and her defensive field players that include Sarah Pratt, Haley Case and Emily Pertell. Johnstown has allowed nine goals, and VanValkenburgh has 10 shutouts, the junior’s last one coming when the Lady Bills topped Schuylerville 7-0 for their first Section II title since 2011.
“We’re so strong front to back,” Krempa said. “Our most valuable player is our team.”
Carle Place beat Pierson 1-0 for the overall Long Island championship to get back to the state final four where it has been a fixture for several years.
“They have a handful of loses, but they’ve made it to the state final four, so that can’t be a determining factor,” Krempa said. “This deep in the tournament you know teams aren’t going to roll over.
“We’ve been pushing the last few weeks that the skills are pretty equal,” Krempa added. “It’s about heart. We tell them, ‘When your brain says you can’t go further, turn your brain off and keep pushing.'”
Carle Place beat Barker and then lost to Whitley Point in last year’s state final four, and in the 2017, Carle Place beat Schuylerville before a title-game loss to Whitney Point. Whitney Point beat Carle Place in a 2016 semifinal game.
“We’re not happy just being there,” Krempa said. “We’re there to play hard and win games.”
Bronxville earned its state semifinal spot by beating Section IX’s Taconic Hills, a former member of Section II, 5-0. Barker advanced with a 6-1 win over East Rochester.