Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Field hockey: Plug pulled on Voorhees-WHills rivalry (UPDATE)

It's been the best matchup bar none in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area for nearly two decades.

But it appears, at least in the regular season, that the Voorhees-Warren Hills field hockey rivalry is over. For the first time since 1999, the two perennial state powers will not meet during the regular season.

The new Skyland Conference alignment for 2014-15 places Voorhees and Warren Hills in the different divisions after years together in the Raritan. As stupid and unbelievable as that is, it was almost a foregone conclusion that these programs would find a way to play once, and perhaps even twice, regardless of realignment.

So why is this annual grudge match not on the schedule? Well, it appears the gamesmanship on and perhaps off the field is one reason judging by the Voorhees camp's interesting and quite response. What is clear is that one side of the rivalry is apparently moving on.

"We are filling out our schedule with competitive teams that show the same level of sportsmanship that we expect from our players," Vikings coach Taylor Webb said on Tuesday without further elaboration.

Warren Hills coach Laurie Kerr, who is 9-17-3 all-time against Voorhees in 14 seasons, opted not to comment.

Read into Webb's comment what you will, but this is without a doubt a sad day for the sport in our area. We still could see these teams match up in the HWS Tournament, but to not have them competing during the regular season and in the same division is a crying shame. The programs shared last year's Raritan Division title after splitting the regular-season meetings.

Blue Streaks athletic director Peter Lubrecht said on Thursday that he too is disappointed that there will be no regular-season game.

"They just said they don't want to play us," said Lubrecht, who just completed his first school year as AD. "I was at all of our home games and the county game [against Voorhees] and to be honest, I didn't see any poor sportsmanship. We respect Voorhees and the field hockey program. But if they feel this is best for their program, I understand that."

Voorhees holds a 30-19-6 in the all-time series, but it has dropped four of the last six matchups, including a 4-1 loss in the second regular-season contest and a 2-1 defeat at home last year in the HWS semifinals. Warren Hills, which is 2-5 in county games vs. its Hunterdon rival, has won two meetings in the same year in back-to-back seasons, something the program has only done five times since the series began in 1975. The others were in 1975, '79 and '81.

Warren Hills (22-4-1, 9-1 division in 2013) remains in the Raritan Division, which also houses Montgomery, North Hunterdon, Phillipsburg and Watchung Hills. Voorhees shifts to the Valley Division, which includes Bernards, Delaware Valley, Franklin and Somerville.

With or without the other, both Voorhees and Warren Hills have rugged schedules set up for 2014.

Warren Hills, which has played in the last two Group 3 title games, will open its season at Madison, last year's North 2, Group 1 runner-up, on Saturday, Sept.6. The Blue Streaks will open their home schedule against Hackettstown on Monday, Sept. 8 in a rematch of last year's HWS final, won by the Streaks, 1-0.

By far the Warren County school's biggest regular-season challenge will be on Saturday, Sept. 27 when it travels to Eastern for a showdown against the perennial Group 4 champion and the Garden State's top program.

Kerr's squad will be loaded again this fall is it look's to snap the program's 0-8 mark in the Group 3 finals. Seniors Sydney Muntone (Temple) and Nikki Profita (Rutgers) will anchor a potent offensive attack, along with sophomore Dani Profita, who is recovering from an ACL injury sustained earlier this year. Muntone (team-high 17 assists) and Nikki Profita (team-high 20 goals) combined for 108 points last season. Muntone also scored 19 goals, while Profita added 13 assists. Dani Profita burst onto the scene with 15 goals -- the third-highest total on the team.

Defensively, outstanding senior back Amanda Crampton, also a Division I recruit, and junior goalie Taylor Austin, who was outstanding in her first-ever season of hockey, will lead the Streaks.

Voorhees (16-5, 9-1) will open its season on Friday, Sept. 5 at home against Bernards. The following day, the Vikes will host reigning Group 2 champion West Essex at 11 a.m., and will travel to 2013 Group 1 champion Shore Regional on Saturday, Sept. 27.

West Essex holds a 6-1-1 edge, including a 3-0 mark at home after last year's 3-0 win over Voorhees, in the all-time series dating to 1996, when the schools played to a 1-1 tie. The programs have split meetings in the Group 2 semifinals -- Voorhees winning 2-1 in 2000 and West Essex prevailing 2-1 in overtime in 2002, ending Voorhees' 23-game win streak as the Vikes finished 23-1 in the final game under former coach Ann Bonavita, now Webb's assistant.

Junior forward Kathryn Roncoroni will help anchor the Voorhees offense once again. Roncoroni scored both of the Vikings' goals in a 4-2 season-ending loss to Parsippany in the North 1, Group 2 semifinals to match the school's single-season record of 33 set by Colleen Boyce in 2010. Senior goalie Lauren Pianucci will head up an always strong Voorhees defense.

Voorhees goes clubbing

Hunterdon County now has a place for year-round training in its backyard with the advent of the TaylWind Field Hockey Club, created by Webb.

"I've always been involved with clubs either playing or coaching and I found a need for one nearby," said Webb, who runs the program along with Bonavita and Donna Whiston. "I wanted one with a balance between competitive and fun."

Webb said due to travel reasons, a lot of potential players were migrating to lacrosse or not playing field hockey at all since there wasn't a facility in the area. Despite a battle for field space, the coach hopes this will help the sport grow.

"The kids had been traveling so far and there really isn't one like this in our area," Webb said. "We're trying to make it a more popular sport by offering year-round training."

The club provides year-round training for grades 1-12 and offers league play and a summer camp that will run July 28-31 at Voorhees High School.

NJAC misalignment

Looking over this year's Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference realignment and one word immediately comes to mind -- stupidity. How else can you explain the expansion to seven divisions, five of which contain five or fewer teams.

How about the four-team Freedom Division for field hockey and wrestling? Win three games, or six, and win a division title. Sussex Tech does not offer either sport.

It's utterly ridiculous and the people responsible should be ashamed of the themselves. No wonder it was so hard trying to obtain a copy of this embarrassment.

Here is how the divisions (with the exception of football) will look starting this fall:

American Division (5) -- Morris Hills; Mount Olive; Pope John; Sparta; Vernon.

National Division (5) -- Morris Knolls; Parsippany Hills; Randolph; Roxbury; West Morris.

United Division (5) -- Chatham; Delbarton; Mendham; Montville; Morristown.

Freedom Division (5) -- Hackettstown; High Point; Jefferson; Lenape Valley; Sussex Tech.

Colonial Division (5) -- Hopatcong; Kittatinny; Newton; North Warren; Wallkill Valley.

Independence Division (7) -- Butler; Boonton; Kinnelon; Morris Catholic; Pequannock; St. Elizabeth; Whippany Park.

Liberty Division (7) -- Dover; Hanover Park; Madison; Morristown-Beard; Mountain Lakes; Parsippany; Villa Walsh.

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