Friday, October 26, 2012

HWS field hockey: Title game could be battle of Ds

It's hard not to think of Voorhees' field hockey program when it comes to county championships.

The Vikings won a record eight in the former Hunterdon-Warren tournament -- adding a ninth title two years ago when Sussex County joined the party to make it a tri-county affair.

High Point will be seeking its first championship while trying to deny the Hunterdon County school its 10th prize, when the two teams square off in the HWS title game at 4 p.m. Saturday at Hackettstown High School.

Voorhees (11-4-1) has been idle since a stunning 2-0 victory over tournament favorite and 2011 champion Warren Hills in last Saturday's semifinal. Second-year coach Taylor Webb, who won two county crowns as a star midfielder for the Vikes, is excited for her team's opportunity to reclaim county gold.

"I'm very proud of them. It was a huge feat to be where we are now," said Webb, whose team avenged two regular-season losses to Warren Hills. "This is the fun part of the season. We had a great week of practice and the girls are looking forward to it."

High Point (16-1-1) is the hottest team in the tournament having won 11 in a row -- going unbeaten in October -- since a 4-0 loss to Pingry on Sept. 22. The Wildcats, who play Wallkill Valley Friday night in a tuneup game, pulled off a stunner of their own with a 1-0 win over Hunterdon Central in the other semifinal on Monday. Coach Bev Keur's team is pleased to be back in the final for the second straight season, falling 3-1 to Warren Hills in last year's title game.

"After two years of coming up short [High Point lost 1-0 to Voorhees in the 2010 semis], we are planning to take this championship," said High Point senior star Darby Smith, who leads the team in scoring with 26 goals. "Last year left a bitter taste. I hate losing to Warren Hills. But I'm glad we have a second chance at Voorhees."

Defense figures to be the name of the game in this year's final.

High Point's unit has yielded a total of 10 goals this season and have recorded four straight shutouts during their current win streak. Backs Michaela Macken, Annelise Malgieri, Kristen English and Michaela O'Hern were stalwarts in the win over Hunterdon Central. Goalie Erin Williams also has come up big during three straight HWS wins.

"I'm really looking forward to playing Voorhees," said veteran 'Cats coach Bev Keur, whose team has won three straight NJAC American Division titles with 40 straight wins in division play. "We know we're going to be up against it. The Hunterdon-Warren programs are excellent and play a lot of top-class teams. I don't like to call us a "Cinderella." Maybe we're the underdogs that aren't expected to do anything. That's a nice switch in gears, too."

Smith, the UConn recruit and the Sussex County school's all-time leader in goals (74) and points (172), along with junior forward Carly Satter lead a High Point offense that will need to more opportunistic against a quality opponent. Satter leads the team with 12 assists and her speed could be a factor on the turf.

"We played one of our best games ever [against Hunterdon Central]," Satter said after Monday's win. "We did lose a lot of girls [to graduation] and some people doubted us as a young team. Defense definitely wins championships and it's a big part of our team. We're so excited to play [Voorhees for the title]."

Voorhees' defense has recorded nine shutouts this season and hasn't allowed a goal in three HWS victories -- 2-0 over Kittatinny, 3-0 over Wallkill Valley and 2-0 over Warren Hills. It's been a trademark of Viking teams over the years.

"We've stayed focus on team defense -- working on techniques and team concepts," Webb said. "Smith is on our radar and we're aware of her. [Warren Hills star] Niki Miller has been held [without a goal or an assist] three times this year and we were one of them. We've done well in tournament [games]."

Backs Alex Barish and Michelle Gaykowski spearhead a unit that features two excellent goalies in Lauren Pianucci and Kathryn Boyce.

If the goalies' last names seem familiar it's because they are. Pianucci's older sister, Kimmie, was an excellent goalie for the Vikes, while Boyce's older sister, Colleen, was one of the best players ever to come out of Voorhees. She is now playing on the Division I level at Princeton University.

Webb has rotated both of her keepers all season -- Pianucci in the first half and Boyce in the second -- and it's been an huge success.

"They've been aggressive and knowing their roles," Webb said. "Playing in the first half and in the second half are very different. Lauren is very verbal and has a lot of energy. Kathryn is poised and very experienced. They complement each other well."

Freshman midfielder Kathryn Roncoroni has been a pleasant surprise on the offensive end with a team-high 11 goals -- including both scores in the win over Warren Hills. Sophomore forward Hannah Ryan is the top option off the bench with five goals this season.

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