It's as if Westminster senior attacker Amy Bittinger has turned on a magical switch.
After scoring just four goals all of last season, she was able to top that in the Owls' first game this year -- a five-goal effort in an 11-3 win against Atholton -- and hasn't been stopped since, piling up 27 goals and helping on three others to lead the team to its best start ever at 5-1.
So what is it that has Bittinger, in her third season on varsity, on a pace to score more than 50 goals?
"This year, I'm using my left and right hand. I played in summer and fall leagues and also played indoor over the winter -- that's helped me a lot," she said. "I'm also a lot more confident. Before, I was intimidated by the older girls. But this year, I'm a senior so there's no one older."
With six starters back from last year's 5-7 squad, coach Suzanne Peters wasn't sure what to expect from her Owls going into the season. Bittinger's vast improvement is reflective of the entire team's success.
"She's really matured this year and has a lot more self-confidence," Peters said. "Last year, she came to me a couple times frustrated, saying she can't get open, so we worked on off-ball movement so she would be ready. I expected her to help our attack, but I didn't expect her to take the lead like she has. It's been a pleasant surprise."
The pleasant surprise has brought on a new role for Bittinger: the Owls' go-to player. Plenty of her teammates are capable of scoring -- five players scored the first five goals in a 14-8 win against South Carroll on Wednesday -- but crunch time has been Bittinger's time.
In the Owls' 12-11 victory over Oakland Mills, she scored three of her five goals in the second half. Against South Carroll, she put the game away with four goals in the latter part of the first half.
"It's nice to know when you're in a little trouble you have someone who can take over, and the girls look for her," Peters said. "She's left-handed naturally and can also go right. Not too many players can do that. I watched her one day in practice and it was tough to decipher which is her dominant hand. She can score with both."
Bittinger is quick to give her teammates a lot of the credit. Peters said this is the best passing team she's had in her nine years of coaching at Westminster.
"The team gets along real well and most of us have been playing together since eighth grade. Everyone has confidence we'll all catch it," Bittinger said. "One thing I've noticed is when I call for the ball, it's always there."
That was evident time and time again against South Carroll when three of Bittinger's five goals were off fine feeds from different teammates.
First it was Michelle Payne, working from behind the net, who found Bittinger cutting through the crease. Then it was Dena Mielke off a restart from behind the cage who saw Bittinger flash through the middle. A little more than a minute later, it was Kelly Berkle who looked for Bittinger.
And when they find her, it's not long before it's in the net.
"She can switch hands to get a defender out of the way and then knows when to take an extra step to get past the goalie," Peters said. "She's good at placing her shots, not just shooting at the net."
Would Bittinger have ever imagined scoring 27 times midway through the season?
"I'm really surprised to be doing this well," she said. "I'm happy, but would like to get some more assists so my teammates can have more goals."
Pub Date: 4/13/97