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New coach leading Blue Raiders field hockey team, optimistic for improvement

By Jason Maddux

jasonmaddux@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 8/29/18

A new coach, relying on a team dominated by upperclassmen, is hoping to turn around the fortunes of the Middletown Area High School field hockey team.

Sierra Lenker is taking over the Blue Raiders …

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New coach leading Blue Raiders field hockey team, optimistic for improvement

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A new coach, relying on a team dominated by upperclassmen, is hoping to turn around the fortunes of the Middletown Area High School field hockey team.

Sierra Lenker is taking over the Blue Raiders after serving as an assistant last year, when the team finished 1-14-1. It’s her first head-coaching job. She replaces Jana Woodring, who was 9-77-2 in her five seasons at the helm.

 

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The team starts the season Friday at home to Eastern York, at 4 p.m.

This year’s team has 15 players, 13 of whom played last year, including 10 juniors and three seniors.

The challenge is getting more girls interested in playing.

“Our numbers are really low. I always tell the girls that we’re unique and we can’t really be comparing ourselves to other programs that have 40 girls on the JV and varsity roster,” Lenker said.

The lack of numbers makes even scrimmaging difficult, since 11 players are on the field at one time.

Still, Lenker has hope.

“Our juniors are really stepping up to the plate. They were underclassmen last year, but now they are out in full force. I certainly am very optimistic that we will have a great season,” she said.

She pointed out the balance in the upperclassman but listed Kiera Guckavan, Marie Schopf, Noelle Zimmerman and Paige Burger, all of whom have played since they were freshmen, and Deja Washington as key juniors.

“I really can’t say one is more important than the other,” she said.

Lenker played field hockey at Cedar Cliff and attended Muhlenberg College in Allentown, graduating in 2015. She was a four-year team member and two-year starter in goal at Muhlenberg, compiling a 1.59 goals-against average and .743 save percentage while recording seven shutouts. She earned All-Centennial Conference honorable mention in 2014, when she was selected to play in the NFHCA Division III Senior Game.

She said her teaching mentality helped get her into coaching.

“I love watching people improve and watching people learn new things and being able to be a part of that,” she said.

She was an assistant at Mechanicsburg Area High School prior to coming to Middletown, where she teaches third grade at Kunkel Elementary School.

“The dynamic is interesting. We always joke that I’m young. A lot of people mistake me for a high-schooler. But I think it’s good. I’m really fortunate I had that year to build a rapport with them prior to being the head coach. I think coming in as a young head coach, it take time to establish that air of respect. I was lucky enough to have that, I think, coming in to this year,” she said.

Especially with a small team, it’s important to be versatile, she said. She would like every player on the field to know how to play every position, “so that when we’re in that bind where we have a player injured and we have to put someone in somewhere else, we have that.”

She said the Raiders in past seasons have been forced to play super-defensively, and one of her goals is to build the team offensively to capitalize on opportunities to score.

Ultimately, the goal is to have a junior varsity and varsity team. Lenker runs a youth program in Middletown that had about 40 girls take part in the spring.

“We have a bigger middle school team this year than we have a high school team, which is funny,” she said.

The thing that’s made other programs really strong in the area is that they start from a very young age, she said.

“So we are hoping that that will carry through and in just a few short years we will be able to field both a JV and varsity team and we will have a stronger program because our numbers will be bigger,” she said.

As far as this year’s team, she said she has girls who are “tremendously positive.”

“I think our attitude carries us through the season every year. Traditionally, we have had years where we haven’t won a game. I think the fact that the same girls are coming back and continuing to play says a lot about the heart of the team. I think the players ultimately are very positive and are really uplifting to one another. Fifteen girls is a tight-knit team. So I think in that regard we are fortunate, because we have no choice but to all stick together,” she said.

While Middletown is not a hotbed of field hockey, it is surrounded by schools that are.

“Central Pennsylvania traditionally is one of the strongest regions for field hockey — Lower Dauphin, Palmyra, Hershey, Penn Manor are big powerhouses year after year in terms of PIAA play,” she said. “It’s an interesting thing to me, coming from an area where field hockey is popular to being here and not having that interest level.”