It’s been a little over 11 months since Haddon Heights fell in the Group I tournament final to Collingswood. The game ended 2-2 in regulation before the Panthers won 2-1 in penalty strokes – a heartbreaking end to a season for the Garnets.
That left a bad taste in the mouths of Haddon Heights’ players which lasted throughout the offseason. To this date, the Garnets are 9-4 while the defending sectional champions are 11-2.
On Tues., Oct. 21, the two will meet for the first time since Heights’ 2013 season ended in penalty strokes. The buildup to the one and only meeting of this season has been intense, to say the least.
“It’s been getting us so excited,” said Kristen Horneff, who has six goals and two assists for Heights this season. “We’ve been looking forward to this game since last year’s final. This game is huge for us and we’re going to play with all of the heart we can.”
With this Colonial Conference rivalry, everything naturally gets amplified, but for a team that has had almost one year to think about this one game, there’s going to be even more effort put into the contest.
“It’s going to be an intense and challenging game,” said Horneff. “We’re all excited to leave our hearts on the field and give it our all.”
The hard part with any game that has this type of storyline is remaining focused. At times, it’s been a little difficult for the players to not look ahead at this match, but for the most part, Heights believes they have stayed true to the games leading up to it.
“As excited as we’re getting we’re making sure we stay focused,” said Horneff. “We’re playing every game with the mentality of Collingswood and playoffs in the back of our minds so we’re prepared.”
The Garnets have a two-game winning streak that could very well be four going into Collingswood. Meanwhile, the Panthers’ only losses this season have come to West Deptford (a team Heights lost to by a score of 1-0) and always-powerful Ocean City.
It’s been challenging at times this season for Haddon Heights as they’ve had to battle with injuries to their defense and midfield, but Horneff credits the team’s intensity for their success in overcoming the losses.
“This has been a tough year for everyone because of the setbacks we’ve had to face,” said Emma Sheehan, the team’s starting midfielder who suffered a season-ending injury. “These setbacks have made us stronger, though.”
That intensity will be on full display next Tuesday in what is sure to be a heated conference showdown at Collingswood.
“The last three times we played have been amazing games,” said Sheehan. “I expect my teammates to be mentally prepared and I know they will be playing their greatest potential. We have been looking forward to this all year. We have the heart, intensity and skill to win.”
Kyle Phillippi covers field hockey and tennis for South Jersey Sports Digest. Reach him at KyleSJSD@gmail.com.
Last season, entering its contest against Moorestown, the Shawnee High School field hockey team was 5-0. But unbeknown to the Renegades, they were 30 seconds away from suffering their first defeat of the season. The Quakers set up for a free hit in what would seemingly be the final play.
The result of that play, despite marking the end of Shawnee’s unbeaten start, would wind up giving the Renegades perhaps their biggest loss that afternoon. The free hit was launched into the foot of Julie Duncan, the team’s leading scorer, and left her on the ground.
The injury turned out to be a broken metatarsal in her left foot. In that moment, though, Duncan had no clue the extent of the injury, or that anything broke.
“It's funny actually because it hurt so much but I was so mad because we lost that I ignored the pain and did the team cool down run,” recalled Duncan. “I practiced on it the next day and it killed but I was hoping it would just go away.”
A later doctor’s visit was where she found out about the damage and that she would be out for at least six weeks — costing her the season.
Including that loss, Shawnee went 7-8 the remainder of the season, finishing with a 12-8 overall record.
With nothing to do but watch from the sidelines, Duncan, then a junior, faced the challenge of watching her teammates play on without her.
“It was frustrating because I just wanted to play,” said Duncan. “There were so many games that were so close and I just wanted to help my team but at the same time it was a learning experience because I could see from the sidelines how the game was played and give my team tips on what to do.”
So one can only imagine the excitement on her face when the 2014 season kicked off. Since her return, Shawnee has jumped out to a 7-3 start thanks in large part to Duncan, who doesn’t show any signs of fatigue.
“I feel a lot better,” stated Duncan. “I've worked really hard during the summer with a trainer for field hockey and for strength and conditioning to really step up my game.”
Whatever she did worked. The forward leads the team with seven goals – already a career-high – and is clearly playing with a purpose.
“Shawnee field hockey is such a unique experience,” remarked Duncan. “All the girls on the team are my best friends and I consider them family and being so close as a team helps our dynamic on the field.”
West Deptford’s young core develops
An injury to a team’s top player could really cost that squad in the long run – unless you're West Deptford.
The Eagles are off to a 9-0 start and have the mindset that they can win every game in front of them.
“I think as a whole, we expect more and more out of ourselves,” said Ciara Girouard. “We obviously want to be champions again this year and get further in playoffs as well as win all our conference games.”
Girouard, who leads the team with 11 goals, is amazed at how well the young core has matured from last year. She specifically pointed out the play of Trisha Baud, Kristy Jakubowski, Sam Souder, Lauren Henry and Julia Magyar.
Jakubowski leads the team in assists while Baud has netted five goals.
“I can definitely see improvement in all of my teammates’ skills and game sense,” noted Girouard. “It seems as if every year new people step up to fill the roles of players we lost.”
One player whose shoes had to be filled, though, was Jade Freeberg, the team’s center forward. She suffered a season-ending knee injury in a summer tournament after a collision with a goalie. Girouard, who has been best friends with Freeberg since third grade, was on her team then and was upset upon hearing the news.
“Right now she can run so seeing her improve gives me motivation to try harder,” said Girouard. “Whenever I feel tired, I just remember that it’s not fair to be tired when Jade doesn’t even have the option to be tired.
“I think we all want to win for each other, Jade included.”
The reason West Deptford is winning comes back to the fact that for the most part, everyone returned and has a year under their belt together.
“Last year’s group is one of the main reasons for our success,” said Jakubowski. “We are used to the way we all play with each other and the experiences that we've had on the field all summer has a big impact.”
Ocean City's 9-0 start propelled by two shutouts over rival
When Ocean City and Mainland take the field, there are a lot of emotions running through the players, which makes it one of the best rivalries around the Cape-Atlantic League.
“The rivalry makes us be intense and makes the games even that much more fun,” said Julia Herrington.
Last season, the two teams split before Ocean City won the third meeting. This year, the Red Raiders pulled off two shutouts over Mainland in a matter of 10 days.
“Beating them twice is a great accomplishment that our team takes pride in,” said Herrington. “We work 110% every day at practice and it surely pays off.”
With back-to-back wins of 6-0 over Mainland, Herrington believes the team has what it takes to win the conference and make a run in the postseason. She also believes they can go undefeated en route to winning states for the second consecutive season.
Intensity gives Heights its advantage
Walk off the field with no regrets.
That’s the motto that the Haddon Heights field hockey team lives by, and so far, it’s paying dividends. The Garnets are 6-2 with four shutout wins.
“There’s no saying our record will be as good as last year's, but our goal is to make it back to the sectional final again,” said Kristen Horneff, who’s tied for the team-lead with four goals.
When gameday arrives, the players wear their uniforms to school, exchange favorite Gatorades and snacks, and constantly get each other ready for the game ahead. This is their routine, and it’s how they build up that intensity that they so often play, and win, with.
“We act as a family on and off the field,” said Horneff. “Our trust in one another and our determination to succeed help us pick up our intensity.”
This season, the team has had to overcome a few setbacks, including a season-ending injury to starting center-midfielder, Emma Sheehan. Mia Dokes, who starts on defense, has also been out with an injury but should return soon. All of this on top of their graduating seniors from a team that advanced to the sectional final against Collingswood.
“Regardless of how many girls we had graduate, we’re carrying over our intensity to this season and are continuing to work just as hard,” said Horneff.
Kyle Phillippi covers girls' tennis and field hockey for SJSD. Look for S.J. Field Hockey Notes once a week. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Phillippi and contact him via email at KyleSJSD@gmail.com