OCEAN CITY — There are three words printed on the back of the warm-up shirts for the Ocean City field hockey team: "BURN THE BOATS". The phrase is mentioned in the Roman myth of Aeneas, who burned his boats after conquering territory in Italy, and another incident was in the year 1519, when Hernan Cortes scuttled his ships during the Spanish conquest of Mexico. In short, there's no going back — reach your goal or die trying.
Of course, high school field hockey players don't take it quite that literally, but the Red Raiders have adopted the motivational technique as they try to regain past glory under second-year coach Kelsey Mitchell. Ocean City seemingly has an annual ticket to the South Jersey Group 3 championship game, and usually beyond, but last year Clearview upended the Red Raiders and won the title. On Thursday, Ocean City got its revenge, winning another sectional title by beating the Pioneers 3-1 at Carey Stadium.
"Basically, we're going to give it our all or we're going to die trying, that's basically what the message means," said senior Reese Bloomstead.
"There were these conquerors who came and were way outnumbered in the land they were trying to conquer. They came in boats, and they burned the boats because they knew they were either winning and conquering the land, or they were going to die. So they burned the boats," added fellow senior Shannon Decosta. "(It means) just leaving everything out there. We want to leave everything on the field. We lost 1-0 (in last year's final), we didn't win the Cape-Atlantic League last year — we didn't really accomplish any of our goals, even though I thought we had a great season. It was really great this year to go undefeated in the CAL then beat a team that beat us last year."
"That was our motto in the beginning of the season during summer workouts," said senior goalie Maddie Kahn. "All the seniors got together and coach Mitchell brought it up. It's personal because only we knew what it stands for. I feel like that's in the back of our minds every game."
Ocean City (19-3-1) took a 1-0 lead early in the game when Sophia Gresham deflected a shot by Bloomstead into the back of the cage, but Clearview's defense held strong the rest of the first half. The Pioneers (17-4-1) even stopped four straight untimed corners to end the half, and trailed just 1-0 heading into the break. But Ocean City struck again early in the second half on a goal by Tara McNally and extended its lead to 3-0 when Molly Reardon scored with 16:25 remaining. Clearivew sophomore Grace Trovato answered four minutes later to shave the deficit to 3-1, but that's all the offense the Pioneers could muster.
"Winning only 4-0 against Absegami (in the semifinals) when we didn't play our best, it was really nice coming out here, playing our very best, and winning against a team that we lost to 1-0 last year," Decosta said. "We tried to keep it in our minds that we were down the whole time so that we wouldn't let our foot off the gas."
"It always feels better to be up 2-0 than 1-0. A weird bounce and (a shot) could somehow end up in the goal, so that takes pressure off of everyone," added Kahn, who finished with eight saves. "One goal went in, but credit to them. The girl in front of me was tall and she got a piece of it and it got by me. But it feels good to have people rely on me now."
Ocean City advances to next week's Group 3 semifinals against Moorestown, which won the Central Jersey Group 3 championship by outscoring its three opponents 21-0, including 7-0 over Burlington Township in the sectional title game. The winner of Ocean City vs. Moorestown advances to the state championship game.
"It felt really good to get this back. I feel like we actually got it back because most of us didn't play our sophomore year when we won, so this feels like our championship and that we definitely earned it this year," Bloomstead said. "Last year was a rebuilding year but we still made it to the South Jersey final, and this year is still kind of a rebuilding year but we proved to ourselves that we can win and we're still the same team we've always been — it doesn't matter what coach or what players we have, we're always going to have that legacy behind us."
Added Kahn, "It feels awesome. I feel like you have to be pumped about it, they played their hearts out, too. It was a big battle the whole time. It was definitely that feeling of redemption. A lot of the seniors last year who were really bummed about not winning last year texted us and they were like, 'get the revenge, get the trophy and bring it back.'"
Contact Dave O'Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays