The Ottawa Hills field hockey team will find itself in familiar territory tomorrow when it takes on Columbus Academy in the state semifinals at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware.
In a sport that doesn't get much attention in Ohio, the Green Bears have dominated like Cleveland St. Ignatius in football. Ottawa Hills has reached the state tournament eight of the past nine years.
“None of them has been easy,” coach Jo Cooley said. “We've had a lot of talent but this team has really played with a lot of heart. Don't get me wrong, this team has a lot of talent too, but they seem to play better the more difficult things are.”
Ottawa Hills (16-2-0) will take on a Columbus Academy team (16-0-1) it beat in the semifinals in 1998 when the Green Bears won the last of their three state titles. Laurel (14-4-1) will battle Cincinnati Indian Hill (13-1-3) in the first semifinal.
The winners will play Saturday afternoon.
Cooley said she didn't like to single out players as the best on her senior-laden team, but when pinned down, she said junior center midfielder Laura Kistler and senior right midfielder Katie Minns have been crucial to the team's success.
Kistler is one of the more accomplished on the team, having participated in the USA Field Hockey Association developmental programs and in the Junior Olympics.
“She's like our quarterback,” Cooley said of Kistler. “The midfielders play an equal amount of offense and defense and they are our people in transition. They get the ball to our scorers. There is a noticeable difference in our team when she and Katie aren't in the game.”
Cooley said the main thing that sets Kistler apart from many of the other field hockey players in Ohio is her tenacity.
“She just never gives up,” Cooley said. “We could be up 8-0 and she's fighting like we're down 10-zip. She just keeps feeding the ball to everyone.”
Cooley said the combination of Kistler and Minns, both members of the 1998 team that won a state title, has been invaluable.
“Their experience really helps because they really know what it's going to take to win it,” Cooley said. “They can relay that to the other players. They know what it's like to play 60 minutes of field hockey.”
Kistler, whose sister Courtney plays field hockey at Brown University, credits Minns and the leadership of 10 seniors on this year's team.
“They have all been friends since kindergarten and their unity has been great for all the underclassmen,” Kistler said. “We started to turn it on just before the state tournament. I think we're focusing more and concentrating on what has to be done.”
Cooley says it's hard for opponents to key on one player because the Green Bears have spread the wealth. Sarah Mitchell has scored 17 goals and contributed six assists. Emily Burns follows with 15 goals and nine assists.
Sarah Shindel has 11 goals and three assists and Lauren Kruse has 10 goals and 16 assists.
Cooley said it would be unfair to compare this team to the 1998 squad.
“Every team is different,” Cooley said. “This team plays with a lot of heart and soul. Teamwork is what has gotten us to where we are right now. That's what's going to get it done for us as well.”