High Point's field hockey team got its wakeup call in a sluggish semifinal performance.
And the top-seeded Wildcats hope to answer the bell on Tuesday when they host No. 2 West Milford in the North 1, Group 3 sectional final in Wantage.
High Point (20-1) is playing for the program's sixth sectional title and first since 2002. Coach Bev Keur's 'Cats have won five straight since a 3-1 loss to Warren Hills, which is vying for the North 2 title on Tuesday, in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex final on Oct. 22.
"I'm really excited to go to the finals," said senior midfielder Sashal Hagan after High Point's 1-0 win over Northern Highlands in Saturday's semifinals. "I think we have an advantage after last year's loss [4-3 in overtime to West Morris in the title game]. I think we're ready for anyone."
West Milford (19-1) enters the championship game riding a 10-game win streak since a 2-1 loss to Northern Highlands on Oct. 4. a defeat the Passaic County school avenged with a 3-2 win on Oct. 25. West Milford is seeking its second sectional title and first since claiming the North 1, Group 4 championship in 1985.
High Point is looking to get back to form after a sometimes lackadaisical effort on Saturday. The 'Cats feature a well-balanced offensive attack, led by senior forward Nikki Hull (18 goals, 13 assists) and junior forward Darby Smith (24 goals). Both were quiet against a Northern Highlands team that game planned to take them out. Hull (108 career points) and Smith (107) are chasing the school's points mark currently held by Lesley Dube (112).
Senior forward Brittany Papa (14 goals) and junior Maureen Gill (7 goals) have shown they're up for the challenge should opposing defenses key on High Point's leading scorers. Sophomore Carly Satter showed some flashes this season, but has missed the last two games with an illness. She is expected back for the final.
"We have about nine girls that can score," Hagan said. "Teams try to mark, but you really can't with our team because there are so many."
Defensively, senior back Bea Cannavale anchors a unit that has yielded 15 goals all season and has produced nine shutouts. Cannavale is a talented two-way threat with eight goals and seven assists. Goalkeeper Kelsey Stoll made the biggest save of the season when she stopped a penalty stroke on Saturday in the first half of a 0-0 game.
West Milford, which averages four goals per game, is led by outstanding senior forward Samantha Browne (34 goals, 10 assists), along with senior midfielder Deborah Wolfe (14 assists) and senior forward Stacie Csakvary (12 assists). Junior goalie Jenna Bednarovsky has recorded nine shutouts.
The High Point defense, which has been solid in key games this season, must be on top of its game. Veteran coach Bev Keur, who has 311 wins in her 21 seasons, doesn't game plan to stop an opponent's top guns.
"I believe in playing straight up," Keur said.
Skinny: High Point has rebounded nicely from its lone loss this season, but the stakes are raised in this one. No one is really talking too much about a pretty good West Milford team that comes in as the underdog. Hull and Smith must get more involved in this one if the 'Cats are going to claim their first title in nine seasons. Regardless of Keur's defensive philosophy, Browne must be contained. The 'Cats' success may depend on it. I think the 'Cats are the deeper team and get it done at home.
Pick: High Point, 3-2.