Saturday, October 27, 2012

Perfect 10: Voorhees blanks High Point for HWS title

County lines aren't blurred where Voorhees High School's field hockey team is concerned. The championship road clearly still runs through Lebanon Township.

A tenacious defense, led my midfielder Tori Crans and back Michelle Gaykowski, made Sara Diacik's second-half goal stand as the Vikings rolled to their second Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex title in two years with Saturday's 1-0 win over High Point at Hackettstown's Morrison Field.

Voorhees (12-4-1) claims its 10th county title overall, having won a record eight in the former Hunterdon-Warren Tournament. The 2010 team captured the program's first HWS title in the second year of the tri-county event. Overall, the Vikes have played in 17 of a possible 28 county finals and are now 9-2-1 all-time against Sussex opponents.

Voorhees has won 10 county titles in field hockey -- two in HWS.
"I have high expectations [for this team] so they definitely met them," said second-year Voorhees coach Taylor Webb, whose team avenged a pair of losses to Warren Hills in the semifinals and a loss in last year's quarters to Wallkill Valley en route to the title game. "Our best defense is offense -- stepping into the ball and not letting people play with it."

Crans, who earned the tournament finals Most Valuable Player Award, was one of the key figures on a championship defense that helped deny High Point (16-3-1) and star midfielder Darby Smith in their return to the finals. Assigned to shadow the UConn recruit, Crans and her teammates clog the middle of the field and held Smith without a goal or an assist for only the fifth time this season. Late in the game, Smith was visibly rattled, throwing up her arms in the air in frustration on several occasions.

"We knew we'd have to play strong defense," said Crans, who was shocked by the MVP nod. "She's an amazing player and it was my main goal -- to mark and keep her away from the [cage]. We have a great team this year and this feels great."

High Point (16-3-1) sustained its second straight loss following an 11-game win streak that ended with Friday night's 1-0 loss at home to Wallkill Valley. Playing four games in six days, the Wildcats appeared to run out of gas late in the second half.

Nonetheless, veteran coach Bev Keur was pleased with her team's effort in the program's second straight appearance in the finals. The 'Cats lost to Warren Hills, 3-1, in the 2011 title game.

"We played great today," said Keur, whose teams are now 0-2 all time against Voorhees and 9-4 in HWS games. "We don't like to lose, but as long as you put everything out on the field and do the best you can I'm proud of them."

Diacik snapped a scoreless tie with her fifth goal of the season -- coming off Voorhees' fourth corner of the game. It was a broken play, saved by senior forward Kelsey Fischer, who took the ball off the goal line and sent it back up the middle to Diacik. The shot sailed past High Point goalie Autumn Smith, who was outstanding in her first start with 12 saves.

"[The goal] boosted our confidence and really tipped the balance in our favor," Crans said.

Keur called a timeout with 15 seconds left -- she wanted it at 30 but the officials didn't grant it -- as High Point tried to mount one last push into the Voorhees circle. But a pass from about the 35 found another Voorhees stick as time expired -- setting off a wild celebration by the Vikes.

Voorhees goalies Lauren Pianucci (first half) and Kathryn Boyce, who closed out the second half, were equally outstanding and critical to the win. Pianucci, whose older sister, Kimmie, was the winning goalie in the 2010 title game, made a big-time save to keep it scoreless in the first half.

Smith had a point-blank shot in front of the cage, sweeping the ball low as Pianucci guessed right and went down to make the save.

"I saw she was wide-open and I knew she was going to make a good shot," Pianucci said. "I figured it was going to be low. Voorhees has a strong tradition and we have a lot to live up to every time we play. [My sister] has really inspired me to get better."

Webb holds her goalies -- who didn't allow a goal in four HWS games -- in high regard.

"Our goalkeepers are really good and I don't think they get as much credit since they split halves," said the coach, who now has three county titles -- two as a star midfielder for the Vikes in 2001 and '02. "Kathryn comes in and calms the defense down. She has a lot of experience."

High Point could only wonder how the game might have played out if Smith was able to cash in late in the first half.

"Maybe that changes the momentum," Keur offered. "[Voorhees'] defense really did bottle up the middle of the field. The last 10 minutes, I think we ran out of steam."

Keur also lauded her defense and goalie, which hung tough despite facing 13 shots. The High Point offense managed just two shots-on-goal -- none in the second half.

"Autumn was awesome," said Keur, who decided in warmups to make the switch from regular starter Erica Williams. "Voorhees is more experienced. They had a lot of flurries and I thought our defense played great."

Both teams will next be in action in the state playoffs.

High Point, the No. 5 seed, travels to No. 4 Ramsey in the North 1, Group 2 playoffs. Fourth-seeded Voorhees will host No. 5 Johnson in the North 2, Group 2 draw. Both games are set for Thursday.

Voorhees (12-4-1)                0                   1             --   1
High Point (16-3-1)               0                   0             --   0


Second half -- V, Sara Diacik, 5th, (Kelsey Fischer), 22:31.

Shots -- Voorhees 13; High Point 2.

Saves -- Lauren Pianucci 1, Kathryn Boyce 0, Michelle Gaykowski 1 (defensive) (V); Autumn Smith 12 (HP).

Penalty corners -- Voorhees 7; High Point 6.

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