Monday, September 8, 2014

Field hockey: Blue Streaks tame Tigers in opener

WASHINGTON TWP. -- A lot has been made about Warren Hills' offensive prowess with two big-time Division I recruits leading the charge.

But the Blue Streaks also feature a lockdown defensive group that put the clamps on Hackettstown in a 3-0 independent win on Monday at Warren Hills School District Stadium.

Warren Hills (1-0) opened its season after Saturday's non-conference game at Madison was postponed due to lightning. Senior backs Allie Brouhard and Amanda Crampton, playing in their final home opener, helped set the tone by holding the Tigers (1-1) to just one shot-on-goal in the first half and five overall.

But the pair of stout defenders also contributed to the offense by hooking up for a goal off a penalty corner 8:05 into the second half that for all intents and purposes helped seal the victory. Brouhard collected a perfect stick-to-stick pass and fired a laser into the back of the cage for a 2-0 lead.

"Our defense has been playing together a long time," Crampton said of a group that includes senior Amanda Oberly and junior Rachel Phillips, along with new sophomore goalie Jackie de Raismes. "We click out there and we feed off each other, and we support each other. I think this was a great home opener."

Brouhard added: "I trust every person out there the same ... someone always has your back. We play well together and we have a lot of chemistry. We practiced [that play on the] goal all the time. Me and Amanda have played together for so long that we know where each other is going to be."

Warren Hills owns a 37-4-3 edge in the all-time series dating to 1969. Hackettstown's last win was 2-1 in 2006 on its old grass field at Hatchery Hill Elementary School.

This one was a rematch of last year's Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex title game, won by Warren Hills, 1-0. The first 15-20 minutes of Monday's clash was eerily reminiscent as both teams battled back and forth before the Blue Streaks finally broke through on junior forward Megan Thompson's goal with 4:42 left before halftime.

Sophomore Dani Profita's goal capped the scoring with 3:45 left in the game.

For fifth-year coach Stephen Speirs, this was a great opportunity to measure his squad's progress to this point. Despite losing six starters from last year's 12-win team, the Tigers, who opened the season with a 5-0 win over Jefferson on Friday, are looking like they will once again be a force in the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference and tri-county tournament.

"This is a good indicator of where you stand in terms of recognizing our weaknesses and strengths," said Speirs, whose teams have been outscored 21-1 in five career meetings -- all losses -- against Warren Hills. "Our conditioning was not good, but it's the beginning of the season. If we play later in the season, which we may, I think you will see a different game. Warren Hills is an outstanding program and it's an honor to know they want to play us because we're a competitive team."

That wasn't the case during Speirs' first couple of seasons when Warren Hills won back-to-back years by scores of 8-0 in 2011 and 6-1 in '12. Last year's HWS final was the culmination of a marked turnaround for Hackettstown, which went 6-13 in 2011 and 9-9-1 in '12, before finishing 12-8 a year ago with losses to Warren Hills and Voorhees (2-0 in the North 1, Group 2 playoffs) in its final two contests.

Warren Hills, on the other had, is annually among the state's elite teams and is battling once again for that elusive Group 3 state title. Coach Laurie Kerr's squad was sluggish at times on Monday, but it dug deep when it counted to pick up the win, thanks mainly to a stifling defense.

"Our defense is very, very solid," said Kerr, who has the bulk of last year's 22-win team back, including Division I recruits Sydney Muntone at forward and Nikki Profita at center-mid. "They have really good chemistry and they really trust each other. They have great stick skills, speed and game sense. Especially with a new goalie [de Raismes]. It was good to see her be able to touch the ball [five saves]. That helps her gain confidence."

The Warren Hills offense had a number of chances in the first half to blow the game open. At the nine-minute mark, Muntone sent a nice cross pass to senior forward Jessica Nissen, who was wide open at the left post. But her shot went wide of the cage. A minute later, Dani Profita also had a one-on-one with goalie Rose Bishop, but the shot went off the pads. Bishop had a nice game, making nine saves in all.

"Hackettstown has some good speed and we played with some gaps in the first half," said Kerr, now 242-67-12 overall in 15 seasons. "We firmed some things up and did a much better job of handling and passing the ball in the second half. We had some opportunities, but our forwards were very unselfish and when they had a chance to take some shots, they dished it off. When it's you and the goalie, take the shot."

Warren Hills will travel to Pingry on Tuesday, while Hackettstown will next host Wallkill Valley on Wednesday before an important road game at Lenape Valley on Friday in a battle of Freedom Division contenders.

Hackettstown (1-1)                       0                  0              --    0
Warren Hills (1-0)                        1                  2              --    3


First half -- WH, Megan Thompson, 1st, (Rachel Phillips), 4:42.

Second half -- WH, Allie Brouhard, 1st, (Amanda Crampton), 21:55; WH, Dani Profita, 1st, (Julie DeSanto), 3:45.

Shots -- Hackettstown 5; Warren Hills 12.

Saves -- Rose Bishop 9 (H); Jackie de Raismes 5 (WH).

Penalty corners -- Hackettstown 5; Warren Hills 10.

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