MOUNT HOLLY--- November 16 was circled by every Eastern field hockey player from the first day of preseason.
On Friday, the Vikings captured their first Tournament of Champions title since 2015 by way of a 3-1 win over Oak Knoll at Rancocas Valley.
“We always say in our locker room and speeches November 16, 2018 because that was our main goal,” Eastern senior Danielle Mlkvy said.
“It’s all about November 16. We all circled November 16,” Eastern junior Amanda Middleman.
The Vikings thrived despite facing adversity in two key periods of the contest.
Eastern responded to a one-goal deficit in the first half through an equalizing goal by Kara Heck less than a minute after Bridget Murphy scored for Oak Knoll.
“I think in the first half for a good bit we were playing not to lose instead of playing to win,” Eastern head coach Danyle Heilig said. “I think there’s a real difference in the type of play. I just think that going down and scoring that goal showed them we could do this.”
Middleman provided the game-winning goal right before halftime for the Vikings, as she lifted a shot into the top of the cage off a penalty corner.
“That was the best feeling ever to score the ToC game-winning goal,” Middleman said.
The second half was a bit more chaotic to say the least, as at one point Eastern had three players on the sidelines due to cards.
“I’ve been coaching for 20 years and I’ve never seen three kids carded at the same time,” Heilig said. “But we had that tonight and honestly I think it made us stronger. When we had three kids out, they didn’t generate a shot, they didn’t generate a corner and we dominated that time. I think that it gave us a boost of confidence and in the second half we controlled the game.”
Then came the stoppage of play for the officials to gather both captains to calm play down.
“They told us to calm down because there were cards and bodies being thrown everywhere,” Mlkvy said.
After the fouls subsided, Eastern provided itself with some breathing room through Mlkvy’s tally with three minutes left.
“It was great,” Mlkvy said. “I heard everyone in the stands cheering and my teammates jumped on me. It’s the greatest feeling. I loved it.”
As the time ticked down to zeroes, all the Eastern sideline could do was celebrate the title its been fighting for all season.
“It’s something that we set our sights on,” Heilig said. “Our slogan from beginning was to reload, redefine ourselves and finish. Finish meant taking care of business in every game and getting to this point and taking this trophy back to Eastern.”