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Playing to Win

by Marc Narducci; Photos by Tim Hawk

It has often been said that defending a championship is more difficult than winning one in the first place.

Try telling that to Eastern Regional High School’s field hockey team or Lenape High School’s girls’ soccer squad; those two programs have made defending titles look like a day at the beach. Eastern has won 12 consecutive state Group 4 field hockey titles, a mind-boggling streak of excellence. Lenape has won four straight state Group 4 girls’ soccer titles, and last year was ranked fourth in the nation in the ESPN RISE poll. What’s even more impressive: both of these schools have played difficult schedules throughout the season, starting with facing outstanding teams in their own Olympic Conference.

There are several local squads that will be defending a major title for the first time. One instance is Haddonfield’s football team. The Bulldogs beat West Deptford, 16-8, to win last year’s South Jersey Group 2 football championship—Haddonfield’s first sectional title since the advent of NJSIAA football playoffs in 1974.

Given the electrifying roster of returning and up-and-coming athletes, this fall should be another great season for local sports teams, whether they’re throwing a football or swinging a racket.

In an endeavor of grand proportions, Suburban Family Magazine has compiled a comprehensive fall sports preview covering more than a dozen high schools. We reached out to coaches at Cherokee, Shawnee, Lenape, Seneca, Cherry Hill East, Cherry Hill West, Eastern, Moorestown, Haddonfield and Washington Township high schools, as well as private schools including Moorestown Friends, Paul VI, Camden Catholic, Gloucester Catholic and Bishop Eustace.

From Cherokee’s boys’ soccer team, which is defending its state Group 4 title, to Haddonfield girls’ tennis, which has won consecutive state Group 2 crowns, they offered plenty to look forward to, including new stars and the rekindling of generations-old rivalries.

As a warm-up to our comprehensive sports preview, we checked in with three student athletes looking to defend major victories from last season. Here’s what they had to say:

Alana Barry; Eastern Field Hockey

The Vikings have won with such regularity that coach Danyle Heilig makes leading a winning team look downright easy. But nothing could be further from reality—and last year was a prime example. Though Eastern was led by two University of Iowa recruits, Cori Allen and Brittany Evangelisti, the remainder of the team was largely underclassmen.

And still the Vikings won a Group 4 title.

This year, the Vikings will be led by yet another future Iowa star, senior goalie Alana Barry. Last season, Barry was voted Goalie of the Year by the Field Hockey Club of South Jersey. Barry has been a starter since her freshman year, so she is as experienced as any player in defending a state title. “There is a little pressure to defend a title like that,” Barry says. Yet, she says, being part of one of the country’s top field hockey programs is worth it.

“It’s amazing to be part of Eastern field hockey. And for the players we want to keep the tradition going as long as possible,” Barry adds.

Moreover, Barry says, defending a title isn’t nearly as stressful as choosing a college—especially when so many schools are clamoring for one’s services. “That was a lot of pressure,” Barry says. “I felt so relieved when I made my decision.”

Allison Johnson; Lenape Girls’ Soccer

Lenape senior goalie Allison Johnson had more than a decent season last year. In fact, she recorded 16 shutouts during a 23-1-2 campaign, helping her team to its fourth consecutive state title and earning South Jersey Player of the Year honors along the way. But, Johnson says, last year is last year.

“There is the pressure at Lenape to prove you can do it again and not just the year before,” she says. “It makes it 10 times harder because everybody gets so up for playing against you.”

Yet, Johnson and her teammates don’t let the pressure get to them. “All the girls really get along, and it’s such a fun experience winning a state championship,” she adds.

Lenape coach Kevin Meder, who has guided the Indians to all four state crowns, tries to encourage each year’s team to compare itself to years past. Johnson’s outlook is a testimony to that philosophy. “It’s so much fun,” she says.

Teams who find themselves playing against the dominant Indians, however, may differ on that point.

Jim Cashman; Haddonfield Football

Jim Cashman wants a ride on the fire truck. After the Bulldogs beat West Deptford to win the South Jersey Group 2 title last December, the team received an escort through town from a big red engine, a tradition for Haddonfield champs.

“It was awesome,” says the 6-foot-7, 275-pound Cashman, among the best offensive linemen in South Jersey, who made a verbal commitment to Boston College after receiving more than 25 scholarship offers. “It was such an exciting night.”

Unlike field hockey and soccer, public schools in New Jersey don’t play for a football state championship, so Haddonfield’s 11-1 South Jersey title—which included avenging a 31-28 regular season loss to West Deptford—represented the fulfillment of the team’s loftiest goals.

And while he admits there is pressure to defend that title, Cashman says tasting a championship has only whet his appetite for more. “The whole team is fired up to get back after winning it last year,” he says. “We all know that we will be targeted, but winning last year gave us the motivation to work harder and to get back.”

The Bulldogs went into the summer with a simple mindset, he says: “We are ready to work hard and try to win another one.”

Click on the sports below to be directed to the article

Football

Boys' Cross Country

Girls' Cross Country

Girls' Soccer

Boys’ Soccer

Girls’ Tennis

Volleyball

Gymnastics


Field Hockey

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family’s High School Fall Sports Preview, August, 2011.
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