Eastern's

Kelsey Mitchell

has kept goalkeepers and other defenders on high alert inside the striking circle for the last three years.

Keepers, in particular, have had to react quickly in the face of this Houdini with a hockey stick, and often they have guessed wrong as a shot whizzes or plops into the cage.

This season, the calm and composed junior led Eastern and all of South Jersey in scoring with 37 goals. Added to her 29 as a freshman and 36 as a sophomore, Mitchell has 102 career goals, which has her on track to break a couple of records next season.

"A record would be a great accomplishment, but it's all about team accomplishments, because that's what people remember more," Mitchell said.

Remember this: Eastern (25-2) won a national-record 10th consecutive state title and second Tournament of Champions crown with the formidable forward working furiously in the circle.

Because of that - and more - Mitchell is The Inquirer's field hockey player of the year in South Jersey.

Sharon Landau, who played for Rye Neck in Mamaroneck, N.Y., between 1982 and 1985, holds the national scoring record with 174 goals. Mitchell is not likely to equal or surpass that mark. However, the 16-year-old shooter has a shot at the New Jersey and Eastern scoring records of Michelle Vizzuso and Shaun Banta, respectively.

Vizzuso, who played for West Essex between 1992 and 1995, has the state scoring record with 145 goals. Banta had 135 goals when she graduated from Eastern in 2003.

A member of the Futures Program, an Olympic development initiative, and a National Futures Championship selectee, Mitchell has to be coaxed into talking about her scoring skills, because she sees herself as part of a larger picture.

"My teammates set me up a lot with great passes," Mitchell said. "I'm in the right place at the right time, and speed is a helpful quality."

That confidence and attitude are what endear the honors student to Eastern coach Danyle Heilig and the players.

"I feel that Kelsey is the best field hockey player in South Jersey, the most dominant force on any team," said Heilig, who has guided the Vikings for the last 10 years. "She has a variety of shots from both sides of her body. She's quick in releasing the ball, makes good reads inside the circle, positions herself for rebounds, and pays attention to details."

Mitchell's 100th goal was a reverse-stick chip shot while the ball was elevated during a 4-0 win over Shawnee in the sectional title game.

Al Mattei, founder of Topofthecircle.com, recalls Mitchell scoring on a halo shot - over the goalie's head - in a 3-1 win over Wall Township in the TOC final.

"It was a gorgeous shot," Mattei said.

Mitchell scored four times against Lenape during a 7-0 rout of the Indians on Oct. 21, and losing coach Sarah Moretti remembers that, too.

"She has that drive to score, that hunger," Moretti said. "And she has phenomenal stickwork."

Washington Township coach Jeannine O'Connor attributed Mitchell's scoring ability not only to her experience and confidence but also to the talented teammates that support her and a coach who brings out the best in her players.

Eastern senior midfielder Geena Lesiak, a member of the Spirit Field Hockey Club with Mitchell, sees the star forward as a highly competitive, outgoing and friendly person whose personality and skill have made others around her better players and people.

Inspired by her older cousins, Kelly and Leigh Mitchell, who now play field hockey for the College of New Jersey, Kelsey Mitchell started participating in the sport when she was 12. She was also playing lacrosse and continues to do so as a varsity midfielder.

Mitchell's father, Chris, played football at Cherokee and Ursinus College. Her mother, Sheri, played basketball at Lenape and Trenton State College, and younger brother Colin plays lacrosse for the Berlin Community School.

After the Field Hockey Club of South Jersey named Mitchell its offensive player of the year, she reacted in a typically low-key manner, saying she was excited because that had been one of her goals.

Mitchell sees next season, which could be her most productive, as just another year while she mulls which college to attend.

Goalkeepers will likely see it as another season of high anxiety.

Contact staff writer Bill Iezzi

at 856-779-3826

or biezzi@phillynews.com.