By ANDY LOIGU
For the fifth straight year, the Warren Hills field hockey team faced Ocean City in the Group 3 state final.
The defending state champion Blue Streaks were denied a third straight crown on Nov. 12, in a 5-0 defeat in Bordentown on a neutral field.
Warren Hills finished the 2016 season with a 20-5 record . Going into the state final, they were ranked 15th in the state by nj.com.
The Red Raiders of Ocean City have now won 10 state championships, all in Group 3, and this was the sixth in which they defeated Warren Hills in the final. Until Warren Hills broke through by winning the 2014 title, the Blue Streaks were viewed by many as the Buffalo Bills of New Jersey field hockey, losing the championship final in five successive tries.
Last year the Blue Streaks won their second straight state title by a 1-0 score, but this year’s Ocean City team was loaded. The Red Raiders averaged 6.5 goals per game through a 22-3 campaign, while their goalkeeper shut out the opponent 17 times. Ocean City featured six goal scorers in double digits.
Although the Blue Streaks are a perennial power in the sport, winning a sectional championship for the fifth consecutive year was not easy this fall. It did not come quite the way they drew it up in pre-season.
Dani Profita scored 41 goals and dished 25 assists as a junior in 2015, earning first team All State, All Groups honors.
However, she was lost to the team in late September with a torn ACL.
Making adjustments, the Blue Streaks won the sectional title with a balanced offense this year. Rebecca Sigman (17 goals, 11 assists) became the scoring leader, with support from Alyssa Appleby (14 goals, three assists), Tali Popinko (13 goals, nine assists), and Caroline Cotte (11 goals). Warren Hills outscored its foes 47-13 in the 15 games leading to the state final.
Meanwhile, the defense was stifling as Warren Hills shutout Central Jersey champion Freehold 3-0 in the state semifinal, holding the Colonials to one shot on goal. The backline led by seniors Brie Schwab, Tyler Stoner and Sydney Moskal was impenetrable. Warren Hills had a 23-1 advantage in penalty corners against Freehold, a telling sign that the Blue Streaks controlled the ball and dominated the action throughout the game.
Goalkeeper Jackie de Raismes made 89 saves this fall and got better as the season wore on.
Three different players scored goals against Freehold. Sigman scored in the first half on a penalty corner.
Cotte and Appleby scored add-on insurance goals in the second half.
“They all have the ability to score,” said second-year Warren Hills coach Kate Rothman, who replaced longtime mentor Laurie Kerr last year and earned the state’s Coach of the Year honor from nj.com.
“We have a very unselfish group of girls who pass the ball and whoever is open, shoots,” Rothman said. “When we found that we could not depend on Profita to carry us, they quickly developed their games and worked together very well. They came off the bus and were ready to get on the field and play. Their practice and preparation were excellent.”
The Blue Streaks faced a challenge from nearby West Morris on November 4, and had to come from behind to win 2-1 in overtime in the North Jersey Section 1 Group 3 championship game.
After West Morris led at the half on a goal by Johanna Diehl, the Blue Streaks faced the challenge of getting the ball past an agile goalkeeper, Emily Egan, who stopped nine shots on goal.
Sigman scored in the second half and Mikayla Dugan drilled the game-winner home in overtime.
In goal, de Raismes made four saves.
Defense was the name of the game for the 2015 Blue Streaks, as they outscored their foes 19-0 in their five-game march to the state title.
However, they faced a team with extraordinary firepower in this year’s final.
Next year, they will start all over, do all the off-season conditioning, practice and practice some more, and more likely than not, they will give it another state tournament run. It is what they do.
Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.