Cherokee senior field hockey captain Christina Orio was tested as a leader after the Chiefs lost their opener to Haddonfield, the defending Group 1 champs, and then had to play powerful Shawnee on the road in Game No. 2.
“Definitely, we went into Shawnee knowing we had to beat them or we would be 0-2, we didn’t want that to be start of the season,” Orio said. “We wanted to come out like Cherokee is a team to watch out for and we didn’t do that against Haddonfield.”
Orio led the way. She scored the first goal against Shawnee in the satisfying and urgent 3-2 win.
“I think we were tested as a team in general,” Orio said about responding after losing to the Bulldawgs 4-3. “It was a test to see how we wanted the rest of the season to go.
“It was a test to see how everyone was going to answer after a tough loss.”
“It was the greatest feeling,” Orio said.
Orio is a tri-captain with seniors Gab Bodine and Lindsey Florio. Bodine and Orio both played varsity as freshman
“All three captains were determined, but Christina Orio is always so determined,” Cherokee coach Devon Bell stressed about responding after losing the opener. “She gives 110 percent. If you say run 10 sprints, she runs 11. She always goes the extra mile, even during the season she trains at Impact three times a week.
“We definitely put a lot of faith and confidence in her."
Bell boasted how Orio is a leader in drills as well as speaking to the team, which can be uncomfortable for high school athletes. However, Bell doesn’t just admire Orio as a responsible leader, talented athlete and a fierce competitor, but also as a genuine good person and an uplifting role model in the hallways of Cherokee.
“She is hysterical, her grades are awesome, she is so nice to every kid,” Bell gushed. “She will sit with kids at school who need help, she mentors some of the freshmen, she will do anything for everyone.”
After enduring perhaps the toughest opening week schedule in South Jersey, the Chiefs will play at Eastern on Tuesday. The Vikings are seemingly the defending Group 4 champions every year since Orio and her classmates were born.
“We are going into the game with a really positive attitude,” Orio said. “We are going in thinking anyone can beat anyone on any given day.”
Orio, a three-year starter, has never beaten Eastern. The Vikings are off to a 2-0 start, outscoring their opponents 25-1.
“We think the last time we tied Eastern was when my coach played for Cherokee,” Orio said. “We were talking about that (Monday) … it has been a while.”
As a freshman, Bell scored the lone goal that tied Eastern 1-1 in 2005. Bell played with Christina’s older sister, Katie, at Cherokee.
“Their whole family is the definition of a Cherokee family that bleeds orange,” Bell said reverently.
After the Vikings, the schedule doesn’t soften. Cherokee plays Thursday against Cherry Hill East and then against Bishop Eustace on Saturday. The Crusaders reached the Tournament of Champions semifinals last year.
At least both games are at home for Cherokee.
“We have a pretty tough schedule,” Orio said matter-of-factly.
The Chiefs play in the unforgiving Olympic Conference American Division with sister schools Lenape and Shawnee as well as Cherry Hill East, Washington Township and of course Eastern.
That means the Chiefs play against some of the top teams in South Jersey – twice in the regular season.
But Orio, who fearlessly wears No. 13, welcomes the challenge like charging for a free ball at midfield.
“I think have to go with mindset you will do it, and do it,” Orio said.
This season, Orio moved from forward, dropping back to midfield.
“I absolutely love it, you are just involved in everything,” said Orio, who also plays lacrosse for the Chiefs.
Orio comes from a famous South Jersey sports family. The Orio name is synonymous with determination and drive as well as talent and skill.
Her father Mike, was a standout two-way player at Paul VI in the mid-1970’s, opening holes for running back Frank Iula. The rugged Orio was a star offensive guard at Widener when the school was a Division III power. He was a senior captain for legendary coach Bill Manlove. He also was a catcher on the baseball team.
“He taught me a lot of stuff I know today and his attitude has rubbed off on me,” Christina said about her father.
As a sophomore, Orio scored three goals in the South Jersey Group 4 tournament 7-1 win over Millville
“It goes by way too fast, absolutely crazy, I feel like I was just a freshman, it went by with the blink of an eye,” said Orio, whose cousins Anthony and Nick were star wrestlers at Eastern. Anthony was also a great quarterback and leader for the Vikings.
“I always try to play like every game will be my last game, but knowing this is my senior year and only having a few games left makes me want to play harder.”
Last year, the Chiefs bowed to Eastern in the playoffs, losing in the sectional semifinals to the powerhouse.
But the playoffs can wait. Up next is Eastern in Game No. 3 this season for Cherokee and Orio.
“If we play liked we played against Shawnee,” Orio said, choosing her words carefully, “we will give Eastern a game.”