JOHNSTOWN — As her team opened preseason practice Monday morning at Knox Field, Johnstown field hockey coach Christine Krempa candidly posed a question to her team.
How many players, she asked, were nervous about filling the void left by the prodigiously talented players who left the program after graduating this past June?
“A lot of hands shot up,” Krempa said.
“I shot a lot of statistics at them,” she said. “Last year, we had 13 goalscorers, and nine of them are returning. [Almost] half of our goals were scored by girls who are returning. There’s a lot of skilled girls on this team. These girls are just as capable as the girls that left, they just have to work.”
Krempa said she’s confident that her returning players can do the work necessary to step into the shoes vacated by players who led the team to a 2019 Class C state final appearance and a 13-1 mark this past March and April during an abridged “Fall II” season after the Foothills Council moved its “high” and “moderate” risk fall sports due to restrictions related to the novel coronavius pandemic.
The group that’s gone includes a pair of stars now playing field hockey at the Division I collegiate level in Taryn Ringer (Duke) and Emily Fleming (Appalachian State). Those two, plus fellow 2021 graduate Anna Lee, combined to produce 39 of Johnstown’s 76 goals and 34 of the team’s 58 assists this past spring.
Filling those roles will be demanding, but Krempa believes her returning roster still has talent to spare.
“It’s anybody’s game,” Krempa said. “I think these girls are going to be champing at the bit to show us what they have, and that they want to be in those positions.”
Despite those nervous hand-raises as practice began Monday morning, the enthusiasm is present.
After all, the Lady Bills are still the defending Section II Class C champions, and still have plenty of players left who were on the team that won that title and went on to the state championship game, where they suffered a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Bronxville.
“We want,” senior forward Mackenzie Heffernan said, “to win it this time.”
Heffernan is part of a key group of returning players that also includes fellow seniors Kalena Eaton and Alexa Savage — currently working her way back from a broken ankle — as well as junior Emily Pertell and a strong sophomore class headed by Jena Barker, Cole Krempa and Caroline Krempa.
A number of Johnstown’s younger players got vital experience during their rescheduled season in March and April, when a number of then-seniors were out with injuries. That includes junior goalkeeper Emilia Haverly, who stepped up to become the starter when Abby VanValkenburgh was unavailable.
Competition for playing time this season — which opens Sept. 7 against Schuylerville — will be as fierce as ever.
“I don’t care what grade you’re in. We’ve been honest with that for this whole program’s tradition,” Christine Krempa said. “The strongest players are going to be on the field. The girls believe in that, the coaches believe in that. I don’t care that you’re a junior and you started last year, if somebody’s outworking you, you’ve got to watch your back.”
And if the Lady Bills’ opponents are expecting something different following the departure of Johnstown’s most recent generation of field hockey stars, the next group might provide a rude awakening.
“I think a lot of schools are going to be expecting a completely different team,” Krempa said. “While it may be completely different faces out there, it’s still going to be Johnstown field hockey.
“I think a lot of teams are going to be surprised that we’re still pretty loaded.”