Saturday, November 28, 2015

Wrestling: Group 5 likely coming across the board

Hate to say we told you so, but the reality is that Group 5 for wrestling is seemingly here to stay.

The sad experiment that was implemented last season as a one-year pilot program was adopted again for the 2015-16 season -- and likely beyond -- by the NJSIAA voting members.

What's next? Expansion from six to eight qualifiers in the sectional tournaments? Don't scoff, they're discussing and voting on that as well.

In another unsurprising but favorable move, the Group championships are shifting back to Toms River North after a disastrous return to Trenton last season. To be fair, poor weather contributed to the low attendance figures, but the lack of marquee matchups did little to entice even diehard fans to make the trip to dreary Sun Bank National Center.

As for Group 5, well, this is a sign of the times in wrestling and most high school sports. Pressure to win trophies -- which is being cultivated on the youth level -- has become a factor in decisions to put what is best for the overall sport on the back burner. Group 5 has watered down the postseason playing field and robbed us last season of a Brick Memorial-Phillipsburg showdown for the Group 4 title, since Brick was housed in Group 5.

"It helped us last year, but it's not what's best for the sport," said Newton coach Eric Bollette, whose Braves have a much easier road a year ago in the North 1, Group 1 section with five groups. The Sussex County school will be in North 2, Group 1 for this season.

The closeness of the voting in the Northwest Jersey Athletic and Skyland conferences was at least a bit encouraging moving forward.

In the NJAC, the vote 18-14 in favor with seven abstentions. Sadly, West Morris, did not cast a vote either way. Of  the seven abstentions, only Delbarton and Hackettstown have wrestling programs. You can understand Delbarton not voting since it does not have a dog in the fight with Group 5 not impacting the Non-Public ranks. But Hackettstown not casting a vote is a real head-scratcher. Why not vote on something that could affect your program?

Boonton also suggested having eight qualifiers instead of six for the sectional tournaments, something that lasted just one season in the early 1990s before going to six. Prior to having eight, just four teams qualified in each section.

Here's the breakdown of votes:

Five groups -- Hanover Park, Hopatcong, Lenape Valley, Madison, Mendham, Montville, Morris Hills, Morris Knolls, Morristown, Mount Olive, Mountain Lakes, North Warren, Parsippany Hills, Pequannock, Roxbury, Sparta, Vernon, Whippany Park.

Four groups -- Boonton, Butler, Chatham, Dover, High Point, Jefferson, Kinnelon, Kittatinny, Morris Catholic, Newton, Parsippany, Pope John, Randolph, Wallkill Valley.

Abstentions -- Academy of St. Elizabeth, Delbarton, Hackettstown, Morris Tech, Morristown-Beard, Sussex Tech, Villa Walsh Academy.

Over in the Skyland Conference, the vote was 10-8 in favor of keeping Group 5, according to Skyland vice president and Voorhees athletic director Al Stumpf, who curiously could not provide a school-by-school breakdown of the votes.

Apparently, in talking with some area coaches, votes were cast by the ADs, who did not necessarily consult with their coaches.

Belvidere and Phillipsburg are the only known schools in Hunterdon-Warren to vote against Group 5.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Field hockey: Streaks' season ends in TOC semis

Warren Hills' field hockey team, fresh off winning its second straight Group 3 title, dropped a 4-1 decision to Eastern on Wednesday in the Tournament of Champions semifinals at West Windsor North High School.

The Blue Streaks (23-3), who had their five-game win streak snapped, finished arguably the greatest season in program history by matching a school record for wins -- set last year -- as well as the program's 13th sectional championship. First-year coach Kate Rothman's team earned its second TOC appearance with a 1-0 win against Ocean City on Saturday in the Group 3 final.

Eastern (26-0) advances to face Oak Knoll (24-1) -- a 4-3 winner in overtime against Madison in the other semifinal -- in Friday's championship game at Kean University. The unbeaten Vikings, who defeated the Royals in the last two TOC finals, fell to Oak Knoll in the 2010 title game.

Eastern, along with any knowledgeable field hockey fan, was miffed by its ridiculous No. 4 seed in the TOC, which seeded all five qualifying teams by power points (through its first 13 regular-season games) for the first time in tournament history. Eastern is the consensus No. 1 team in New Jersey and the nation.

Warren Hills, the No. 1 seed, was hosed most of all by the new seeding process by having to face an Eastern squad that is ranked No. 1 in the nation and is riding a 132-game unbeaten streak since the loss in the 2010 TOC final.

Junior forward Dani Profita complete a record-setting season with her team-leading 41st goal in the loss to Eastern. Her 41 goals and 107 points are single-season records for the Blue Streaks, while she also holds the career mark for goals with 80. The goal also raised Profita's career points total to 211, tying her with Sydney Muntone (2011-14) as the school's all-time leader in that category.

Profita will enter her senior season just six assists shy of the career record of 57 shared by Muntone and Niki Miller (2009-12). Miller still holds the single-season record of 29, set in 2012. Profita led the Streaks with 25 assists this season.

Warren Hills finished with 136 goals as a team, nine shy of the record of 147 set in 2014.

The loss also marked the final game for three senior starters -- Rachel Phillips (Vermont), Katie Thompson (West Chester) and Megan Thompson (undecided).

Katie Thompson ranks seventh on the school's all-time assists list with 36 -- behind Muntone and Miller (57), Dani and Nikki Profita (51), Lindsey Schott (46) and Nikki Schott (38).

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Field hockey: Five thoughts on Warren Hills' G3 title

Warren Hills' field hockey team isn't finished yet, as the Blue Streaks still have business at hand in the Tournament of Champions on Wednesday.

But here's five thoughts on a 1-0 win over Ocean City for a second straight Group 3 championship -- the only state titles for any female sports program in the history of the school. How about a few banners detailing the tremendous success of the field hockey program being hung at the turf facility starting next season? Sounds appropriate to me.

1. Defense wins championships. Certainly won this one. Senior back Rachel Phillips was instrumental in what she deemed the unit's best game to date. Phillips was a big reason why the D held off Ocean City on nine penalty corners, and she even sparked the winning drive on offense, sending a ball screaming toward the goal from about 35 yards out to senior forward Megan Thompson, who was able to collect her own rebound for the only goal of the contest.

Can Warren Hills' field hockey team 3-peat in 2016?
Not to be outdone was the stellar performance of junior goalie Jackie de Raismes, who stopped six shots and made a pair of tremendous diving saves in the second half with Ocean City knocking on the door. After being thrown into the fire last year in her first varsity season, de Raismes, who never seems fazed by playing in big games, proved up to the challenge once again.

"After last year this was just another game to me, " said de Raismes, who, along with the rest of the team, dedicated the season to classmate Evan Murray, the Blue Streaks' quarterback who tragically died following one of the team's games earlier this season. "We knew he was watching."

2. To say the Blue Streaks were motivated for the final is perhaps the understatement of the season. Not only were they out to prove that last year was no fluke, but they took exception to comments made by Ocean City coach Cory Terry, who said "Bring it," to one media outlet following a 5-2 win over Moorestown in the Group 3 semifinals. All that ultimately mattered was the final numbers on scoreboard and the trophy going back to Washington for a second straight year.

To a player, this Warren Hills team believed all along it would return to Bordentown for a rematch with Ocean City, now 5-2 all-time in this championship series with the Streaks. The teams have met in the last four Group 3 finals, with the Red Raiders winning in 2012 and '13.

"From the beginning of the season, we never thought about anything but getting back here," said forward Katie Thompson, one of three starting seniors, along with Phillips and twin sister Megan, who will be deeply missed in 2016. "We worked so hard. It's amazing."

3. First-year coach Kate Rothman said afterward that Warren Hills played with tremendous heart and desire. It showed in a second half that favored Ocean City for nearly the full 30 minutes. But each time the Red Raiders threatened, the Streaks found a way to preserve the shutout. OC finished with a 9-3 edge in penalty corners and held Warren Hills to just two shots-on-goal in the second half. Some of the officials' calls were questionable, but the better team prevailed in the end.

4. As it did a year ago, Warren Hills jumped out in front with an early goal. In 2014, it was Katie Thompson who scored the first goal. Turn the page to Saturday, and it was twin sister Megan who notched what proved to be the game-winner just 1:56 in. It set the tone for a second straight title.

5. Of course, now the question now is can Warren Hills 3-peat? With eight returning starters -- juniors Dani Profita (40 goals, 25 assists), Brie Schwab, Tyler Stoner and de Raismes, and sophomores Rebecca Sigman (19 goals), Tali Popinko, Mikayla Dugan and Sydney Moskal -- and a strong eighth-grade class, it's a solid bet the Streaks are back in the title hunt. In addition, junior Caroline Cotte, who was expected to be one of the top players in the area, was lost for this season with a torn ACL. Cotte served as the team statistician all season and will be hungry to return in 2016.

OC isn't going away either. Despite losing three starting seniors, there are nine juniors and three sophomores on this year's roster.

"I think we can [win it next year]," de Raismes said. "We just have to take it one at a time. We are going to try our best to get back here."

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Field hockey: Streaks strike for back-to-back G3 titles

BORDENTOWN -- Warren Hills' field hockey team certainly proved it could bring it.

The Blue Streaks brought their A-game, and as a result, brought home a second straight championship trophy with a hard-fought 1-0 win over nemesis Ocean City in the Group 3 final on Saturday at Bordentown Regional High School.

Warren Hills (23-2), which matched a school record for wins, repeated as the Group 3 champion with back-to-back wins over Ocean City (22-2). Last year's 5-4 win in overtime in the title game snapped the Streaks' eight-game losing skid in finals since their first appearance in 1996. Warren Hills, making its 10th finals appearance, is now 2-5 all-time vs. Ocean City, which has won nine state titles in its storied history.
Warren Hills celebrates with its second Group 3 trophy.

"This is really special," said outstanding back Rachel Phillips, one of three starting seniors who became the first group in program history to play in four straight state finals. "Some people thought we weren't as good [as the 2014 title team]. From the first open gym of the season, all we talked about was winning back-to-backs. Probably [winning] the second one [is sweeter] because it's our senior year."

Ocean City coach Cory Terry gave Warren Hills some extra motivation leading up to the rematch when she was quoted in one media outlet as saying "Bring it," in reference to the Group 3 final after a 5-2 win over Moorestown in the Group 3 semifinals. The Streaks needed no other motivation other than five previous losses to the Red Raiders in the finals dating to 1999.

"We saw [the quote] and we said we had to [beat them]," said senior forward Katie Thompson, a captain along with Phillips. "It was tough. They're our rivals. We knew they'd be out for revenge and we needed to step it up. This is the most amazing feeling."

Phillips, who played one of her best games in a fine career, started the play that led to the game's lone goal. Her hard drive from about 35 yards out found its way into the circle, and senior forward Megan Thompson, who was waiting for the ball near the left post, followed up her initial shot to give Warren Hills a 1-0 lead -- her fifth goal of the postseason -- just 1:56 into the contest.

"We talked [on the bus ride down from Washington] about getting that first goal two minutes in," said Phillips, who will play at the University of Vermont next fall. "Katie and I do that play, and Megan was at the right place."

Junior forward Dani Profita, who leads Warren Hills with 40 goals, nearly made it a two-goal cushion two minutes later on a penalty corner, but her shot ricocheted off the right post. Katie Thompson also fired a laser shot in that was denied by Ocean City goalie Charity Beckert.

After what was mainly an intense defensive struggle in the first 30 minutes, Ocean City seized the momentum in the second half. With 28:37 on the clock, the Red Raiders were awarded a penalty stroke, but Alexis Paone pushed it wide left.

Warren Hills junior goalie Jackie deRaismes, who gained valuable experience in this game a year ago, was stellar down the stretch. deRaismes stopped several point-blank shots, including a diving save across the goal line to preserve the lead and a second state championship.

"I don't know how I stopped them," deRaismes said. "After last year, this was just a game to me. I'm so proud of all my teammates. It's really great that I [got to play] in both."

Phillips once again anchored a defense that held tough -- defensing nine penalty corners -- in posting its fifth straight shutout in the postseason. Warren Hills has outscored its opponents 21-0 during this title run.

"Communication and our marking was really tight," Phillips said of the second-half keys for the defense. "Our main goal in the second half was to develop more offense, but that didn't happen. We knew we could do this. This was the best game our defense ever played."

"Twenty-one goals to none, that says it all," said first-year coach Kate Rothman, who wasn't hired until late July, just weeks before the first official practice of the season. "They played with a lot of heart and desire. [Ocean City] is a very good team. After being here last year, our girls knew they can win. I thought Jackie played a fantastic game and our three [starting] seniors are going to be sorely missed."

Katie Thompson, a West Chester recruit, is proud of what the seniors accomplished, and hopes the juniors finds themselves making history next year.

"This is very special," Thompson said of a four-year run to the finals. "We really wanted it. [The juniors] can do it next year, and I hope they do."

Note: Warren Hills will next play either Eastern or Shore Regional on Wednesday in the Tournament of Champions semfinals at West Windsor North High School. Eastern, the Group 4 champion and No. 1 team in the state, faces Group 1 champ Shore in Monday's play-in game.

Ocean City (22-2)                          0                  0              --    0
Warren Hills (23-2)                        1                  0              --    1


First half -- WH, Megan Thompson, 20th, 28:04.

Shots -- Ocean City 6; Warren Hills 6.

Saves -- Charity Beckert 5 (OC); Jackie de Raismes 6 (WH).

Penalty corners -- Ocean City 9; Warren Hills 3.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Field hockey: Streaks eyeing Group 3 title repeat

It wouldn't really be field hockey in November without a Warren Hills vs. Ocean City matchup now would it?

For the fourth straight year and the seventh time overall, the postseason rivals will clash to decide the Group 3 championship on Saturday at Bordentown High School. Game time is 4 p.m., the fourth of a five-game title slate. The winners advance to next week's Tournament of Champions.

Warren Hills (22-2), which is one win shy of matching the school record set in 2014, seeks its second straight state championship and first under coach Kate Rothman, who took over a program poised for a title repeat this season. The Blue Streaks cruised through their first four postseason games, outscoring their opponents by a combined 20-0.

Last year, Amanda Crampton's goal in overtime ended nearly 20 years of frustration as Warren Hills scored a 5-4 win in sudden victory over Ocean City, which had won their five previous meetings in the Group 3 finals dating to 1999. In fact, the Red Raiders were 9-0 overall in state finals until that loss. One of New Jersey's most storied programs, only Eastern (18), Moorestown (16), West Essex (16), Shore Regional (14) and Shawnee (11) have won more state titles than Ocean City (9).

Warren Hills, which lost six starting seniors from that championship team, is back in the Group 3 final and appears to be playing a notch above last season. Junior forward Dani Profita (40 goals, 25 assists) gets a lot of attention, but the offense is even more balanced than a year ago.

Profita, who owns the school's single-season records for goals and points (105), along with the career mark for goals (79), is just three points shy of that career record as well (Sydney Muntone 211 from 2011-14).

But sophomore forward Rebecca Sigman (19 goals, 5 assists), along with senior forward Megan Thompson (19 goals, 12 assists) and senior midfielder Katie Thompson (17 goals, 14 assists) are all threats to score. Even senior back Rachel Phillips, the rock of a solid defensive unit, has nine goals and 18 assists.

Junior goalie Jackie deRaismes has helped secure 13 shutouts this season and her experience in the cage during last year's title run should prove valuable on Saturday against an Ocean City squad hungry for redemption.

Ocean City (22-1), which dropped a 4-1 decision to state power Eastern on Oct. 27, has also steamrolled its way to an 11th state finals appearance. The Red Raiders, who won the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference title, have outscored their four playoff opponents 24-3, including a 5-2 win over Moorestown in the Group 3 semifinals on Wednesday.

Coach Cory Terry, whose teams are 123-12 in her six seasons, has plenty of offensive firepower starting with senior forward Jordan Allegretto (26 goals, 12 assists), who led Ocean City in scoring a year ago. Junior Rialee Allen, who scored a goal in last year's title game, leads the offense with 38 goals and 26 assists, while senior Maria Farnan has 24 goals. Junior Julia Herrington, who scored twice against Moorestown, is a North Carolina recruit.

Defensively, senior Charity Beckert (17 shutouts) was in the cage for last season's title game.

Saturday's schedule

Group 1

Shore vs. Haddonfield, 10 a.m.


Oak Knoll vs. Bishop Eustace, noon

Group 2

Madison vs. Wall, 2 p.m.

Group 3

Warren Hills vs. Ocean City, 4 p.m.

Group 4

Bridgewater-Raritan vs. Eastern, 6 p.m.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Field hockey: Streaks roll to 4th straight G3 final

Junior forward Dani Profita enjoyed a record-setting day, notching three goals to become Warren Hills' all-time leader as the Blue Streaks cruised to a 7-0 win over Summit in the Group 3 semifinals at Johnson Regional High School in Clark.

Warren Hills (22-2), which recently claimed its 13th sectional title, will meet nemesis Ocean City (22-1) for the fourth straight year in the Group 3 final at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The Raiders advanced with a 5-2 win over Moorestown in the other semifinal.

The Streaks claimed their first state championship -- and the first in any female sport at the Warren County school -- with a 5-4 win in overtime against the Raiders in the 2014 state final at Bordentown High School.

"Ever since the first day of preseason, we knew we could get back here," senior back Rachel Phillips said after the Streaks' sectional final victory.

Ocean City holds a 5-1 edge in Group 3 finals meetings against Warren Hills, which ended an eight-game skid in finals last year and will be making its 10th championship appearance since its first in 1996. Ocean City also denied the Blue Streaks' title bids in 1999, 2001, '09 and '12. Only Eastern (18), Moorestown (16), West Essex (16), Shore Regional (14) and Shawnee (11) have won more state titles than Ocean City (9), which has reached 11 finals in its storied history.

Profita, with 79 career goals, surpassed Sydney Muntone's total of 77 set from 2011-14. Profita, who has a single-season record 40 goals to go with 25 assists for a school record 105 points, is just three points shy of becoming the Streaks' career leader in that category (Muntone is tops with 211).

Sophomore forward Rebecca Sigman added a goal, while senior forward Megan Thompson had a goal and two assists for Warren Hills, which has outscored its four postseason opponents by a combined 20-0 and is now 71-38 all-time in postseason matchups. Junior goalie Jackie deRaismes made four saves for her 13th shutout.

In addition to Warren Hills, Bridgewater-Raritan will represent the Skyland Conference on Saturday when the Panthers meet powerhouse Eastern for the 11th straight year in the Group 4 final at 6 p.m. Eastern (23-0) won the previous 10 meetings against Bridgewater (22-2), which won a 4-1 decision over Montclair in the Group 4 semis, including a 7-0 victory in last year's title game.

Braves fall in Group 1

Shore Regional 5, Newton 1 -- Senior forward Emily Weiss scored the tying goal early in the first half, but the Braves dropped a second straight meeting with defending Group 1 champion Shore in the semifinal nightcap at Johnson Regional.

Weiss knotted the score at 1 about 10 minutes into the first half before Shore (21-4) reeled off two more goals for a 3-1 lead at the break. Shore will face Haddonfield for the Group 1 title on Saturday.

Newton, which claimed its second straight North 1, Group 1 title to reach the state semis, finishes its season at 18-2-2. The Braves were bidding for their second state finals appearance and first since 1984. Last year, coach Lisa Bechtel's team dropped a 2-0 decision to Shore here in the Group 1 semifinals. Sussex County teams have reached the finals 11 times, with Vernon winning the county's last title in 1996.

Newton will return several starting juniors next season, including midfielder Natalie Rivas, who led the team in scoring with 22 goals and nine assists.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Field hockey: HWS schedule for Nov. 9-14

Wednesday, Nov. 11

NJSIAA playoffs

(State semifinals at Johnson Regional)

Group 1

Newton vs. Shore Regional, 6 p.m.

Group 3

Warren Hills vs. Summit, 4 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 14

NJSIAA playoffs

(Group championships at Bordentown)

Group 1

Shore vs. Haddonfield, 10 a.m.


Oak Knoll vs. Bishop Eustace, noon

Group 2

Madison vs. Wall, 2 p.m.

Group 3

Warren Hills vs. Ocean City, 4 p.m.

Group 4

Bridgewater-Raritan vs. Eastern, 6 p.m.