Wednesday, November 14, 2012

NJSIAA field hockey: Blue Streaks roll to 10th title

Warren Hills' field hockey team is back where it feels it rightfully belongs -- on top of the North 2, Group 3 heap.

Sophomore midfielder Nikki Profita scored a pair of goals and senior forward Niki Miller added a pair of assists as the top-seeded Blue Streaks rolled to a 4-1 win over No. 2 South Plainfield on Wednesday in the sectional final on the turf in Washington.

Warren Hills (21-2), which has won five straight, earned the program's 10th sectional title and first since 2009. The Streaks advance to the Group 3 semifinals and will host West Morris -- a 3-1 winner over Wayne Hills in the North 1 final -- on Friday at 2 p.m. South champion Ocean City will meet Central champion Moorestown in the other semifinal.

Friday's winners advance to the Group 3 state final at 2 p.m. on Sunday at The College of New Jersey. Warren Hills has never won a state championship -- 0-6 all time in title games -- losing to Ocean City three times (1999, 2001, 2009) and Moorestown in 2003.

"It feels so good," said Miller, who was just a freshman on the 2009 sectional championship team at Warren Hills. "Winning 4-1 in the sectional final shows that we can definitely go all the way. The last game [a 6-3 win over Chatham in the semifinals in which the Streaks trailed twice] we definitely came out flat. This time we were intense and ready to play."

South Plainfield (21-2-1), which won its only title in 2004 and is now 0-5 all time against Warren Hills in postseason play, was ambushed early as Warren Hills scored just 1:49 into the contest off a penalty corner. Miller set things up with a shot off the pads of Tigers goalie Courtney Ross, as sophomore Jessica Nissen corralled the ball and sent it to classmate Sydney Muntone, who flicked in her 18th goal of the season.

The Tigers, who also lost to the Streaks in the 2001 and '02 finals, recovered quickly to tie the game, as junior Shannon Hughes scored off a feed from Danielle Butrico -- one of 12 seniors on the Middlesex County school's roster -- with 3:07 gone in the first half. Hughes' goal -- her 23rd of the year -- was a rocket blast into the left corner of the cage.

But Profita gave Warren Hills the lead for good with the first of her two goals -- coming off a corner with 12:24 left before halftime. But it was Profita's second goal just 23 seconds into the second half that sent the Streaks storming toward a championship.

"After that third goal we really picked it up," said veteran coach Laurie Kerr, whose teams are now 6-2 overall in sectional finals in 13 seasons at the helm of her alma mater. "It's been tough these last couple of years. We've been knocking on the door, but we ran into a strong Freehold Borough team [ in last year's final] with a really strong player [Emily Wold, now at the University of North Carolina].

"[Profita's second goal] was a game changer. After that you saw [South Plainfield] more panicked and frustrated. We attacked and maintained momentum."

The defense, anchored by backs Stephanie Collins and Meghan Dempski, put the clamps on a fast South Plainfield squad from midway through the first half on. Goalie Katie Wintersteen made nine saves after a shaky start, while Collins and Dempski combined for three defensive saves.

"They've been doing that all season long," Kerr said of her backs.

Nissen capped the scoring off an assist from Miller, who raised her school record assists totals to 28 on the year and 56 for her outstanding career. But it was merely window dressing as the Streaks became just the 14th school in New Jersey to win at least 10 sectional titles.

With sophomores like Profita, there could be a few more titles down the line. But for now, the Streaks can almost taste school history being two wins away from the ultimate prize.

"This feels so great, especially this year because we're such a big family," Profita said.

South Plainfield (21-2-1)        1                   0             --   1
Warren Hills (21-2)                 2                   2             --   4


First half -- WH, Sydney Muntone, 18th, (Jessica Nissen), 28:11; SP, Shannon Hughes, 23rd, (Danielle Butrico), 26:53; WH, Nikki Profita, 15th, (Muntone), 12:24.

Second half -- WH, Profita, 16th, (Niki Miller), 29:37; WH, Nissen, 15th, (Miller), 2:54.

Shots -- South Plainfield 13; Warren Hills 18.

Saves -- Courtney Ross 13, Rebecca Eustice 1 (defensive) (SP); Katie Wintersteen 9, Stephanie Collins 2 (defensive), Meghan Dempski 1 (defensive) (WH).

Penalty corners -- South Plainfield 8; Warren Hills 13.

High Point falls to West Essex

Junior Carly Satter scored off a feed from senior Darby Smith, but it wasn't enough as the No. 5 seed High Point Wildcats fell, 4-1, to No. 3 West Essex in the North 1, Group 2 final in North Caldwell.

High Point (18-4-1), which trailed 2-1 at the half, saw its season end with a loss in the sectional final for the third straight year after losses in the North 1, Group 3 final the previous two seasons. It was the final game of Smith's stellar career, the school's all-time goals and points leader who is heading to UConn next year.

Goalie Autumn Smith made 23 saves for the Wildcats, who beat the Nos. 4 and 1 seeds to reach the final.

Outstanding forward Amanda Cassera scored three goals for state power West Essex (20-1), which claimed its state record 31st sectional championship.

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