Monday, October 27, 2014

NJSIAA preview: Streaks, Vikes eyeing bigger prize

If you want the rainbow, you must have the rain.

Voorhees' field hockey team must now find a way to weather the storm after Saturday's 5-0 loss to Warren Hills in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex final. At 16-2-2, coach Taylor Webb's team has plenty to play as the top seed in the North 2, Group 2 playoffs that begin later this week.

It's hard to believe, but it's been eight years since the Vikings won the last of their six sectional titles, beating Ocean Township, 1-0, on the road in 2006. Speaking of '06, that's also the last year for a title in Sussex County (Wallkill Valley in North 1, Group 2).

Without a top-tier team like West Essex standing in the way, this should be the year that Voorhees, ends the sectional title drought. Delaware Valley (7-9-1), which has two losses to Voorhees, 4-0 and 5-1, is the No. 4 seed in North 2, Group 2.

A rugged schedule, that included games over state powers West Essex, Shore Regional and Warren Hills, should have the Vikes primed for a deep run in the postseason.

"It's nothing we haven't seen before. It's just a matter of choosing to show up and play," Webb said following Saturday's loss. "We only have two losses [also a 2-1 defeat against Bernards on Oct. 14] to good teams. We need to adjust and move forward."

Junior forward Kathryn Roncoroni with her team-leading 39 goals, also the school's single-season record, lead an offense that was stymied in the HWS final. Senior Hannah Ryan and sophomore midfielder Hannah Schiavo are also talented players.

Senior goalie Lauren Pianucci anchors a very strong Voorhees defense that had produced 13 shutouts and had allowed just nine goals through 19 games until yielding five on Saturday. Despite the score against Warren Hills, Pianucci, whose older sister Kimmie was an outstanding goalie for the Vikes and is now at Columbia University, played a solid game, making 11 saves and keeping her team in the game until a second-half surge put it out of reach.

"Lauren is just so amazingly talented. She comes to play every game," Webb said. "She stopped direct shots and some great shots that would have been goals."

Warren Hills had heard it every year since 1996 -- when will the Warren County school claim its first Group 3 title. This year's Blue Streaks are bound and determined to end the 0-8 skid in state finals, starting with capturing its 12th sectional title.

Coach Laurie Kerr's team is the No. 2 seed in the North 2, Group 3 draw and will host either Hopewell Valley or Red Bank Regional in the quarters.

Senior forward Sydney Muntone made school history on Saturday with her record-setting 73rd career goal and 200th point. With 25 goals on the year, she needs three more to break Lindsey Schott's single-season mark of 27 set in 201, and Muntone is four assists away from unseating Niki Miller (57 from 2009-12) as the Streaks' all-time leader in that category.

"It feels almost better to do the work," Muntone said of helping to create the goal rather than to score. "Assists are very important."

Muntone wasn't even aware of her gawdy stats until recently and the Drexel commit is alongside some elite company when it comes to Blue Streaks' hockey, joining Schott and Miller atop the lists, which also include former stars Kate Alleger, Toni Popinko, Megan Springmeyer, Lori Toole, Gail Petteruti and a host of others.

"It's an honor. They're all amazing players," Muntone said. "It's great to know I'm up there as well. I could never have done this without the support of [my teammates]."

Seaters in North 1, Group 1 mix

Watch out for Belvidere in a wide open North 1, Group 1 draw. Despite being the No. 8 seed, coach Beth Franceschino's team, which captured its first Skyland Conference Mountain Division title on Saturday, is a dangerous opponent.

The County Seaters (10-7-1) will get a rematch with No. 9 North Warren in the opening round on Tuesday. The Patriots earned a 3-0 win in their regular-season meeting on Sept. 20, keeping Belvidere senior forward Erin Sassaman (17 goals) off the board. North Warren (9-7-1) is one of the hottest teams in the area having won five in a row -- including four straight shutouts -- since a 1-0 loss to Newton on Oct. 7.

The winner of that one advances to meet No. 1 Newton (9-5-4), which is seeking its ninth sectional title and first under veteran coach Lisa Bechtel, on Saturday. The Braves, who are tied with Vernon for the most titles in Sussex County with eight, won their last in 1986, and have beaten North Warren twice this season -- 3-0 on Sept. 5 and 1-0.

In addition, Lenape Valley (12-5) and Kittatinny (11-6-1) are the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, respectively, in this section, while Wallkill Valley is the No. 7. It's been a strange year in the county as NJAC Freedom Division champion Lenape owns a win over Kittatinny, but has two losses to Newton. Conversely, Kittatinny has beaten Newton twice this season en route to winning the Colonial Division title.

Flick ins

Phillipsburg, the No. 5 seed, is hosting No. 12 Union today in the opening round of the North 1, Group 4 playoffs. A win for the Stateliners (6-10-2) would set up a rematch with No. 4 Randolph in the quarters. Last year, the Rams posted a 4-0 win at home.

Sparta, a No. 4 seed, aims to make its own history when it hosts No. 5 Montville in a North 1, Group 3 quarterfinal on Thursday at 2 p.m. The Spartans are the longest-running program in Sussex County and the only active one without a sectional title. It's been a great success story for third-year coach Kristin Lindsley, who inherited a team that was coming off an 0-16 season and had scored just two goals in 2011. Sparta can clinch its first NJAC American Division title with a win over Pope John today.

Counting the three titles won by Franklin (now Wallkill Valley), Sussex County teams have won 38 sectional titles overall, the last by Wallkill Valley in 2006. Lenape Valley is looking for its first since 1990, while Kittatinny hasn't won one since '95. Pope John, a No. 7 seed in Non-Public North, won its only championship in '96.

Hackettstown drew the No. 3 seed in North 1, Group 2, while High Point is the No. 9 seed in the section. The Tigers have never won a sectional title, while High Point has five, the last coming in 2002. The heavy favorites to win this year are West Essex and Madison, the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively. West Essex has won a state record 32 sectional championships, including 13 under current coach Jill Cosse, whose teams are 369-30-12 in her 18 seasons. Madison boasts 12, but the last was in 2009.

Hunterdon Central, which has won 13 sectional titles, is one shy of matching South Hunterdon for the overall lead among Skyland Conference schools. However, the Red Devils' task this year is more daunting with nemesis Bridgewater-Raritan in the same draw. Seems like this is the case every other year or so as the Panthers keep shuffling between North 1 and North 2, Group 4.

Central won North 2 titles in 2011 and '13, but lost to Bridgewater in the 2012 sectional semifinals. Coach Jenn Sponzo is 8-18-2 all-time vs. Bridgewater and ended a 13-game losing streak with a 2-1 win in the first of two regular-season clashes in 2013. The Panthers, who have claimed nine straight sectional titles since 2005, won their meetings in the Group 4 semifinals in 2011, '13 and '14.

The rivals will meet on Tuesday in a Skyland Conference Delaware Division clash. Bridgewater needs a win to clinch the title outright, while Central can gain a share with a victory. The Panthers scored a 7-2 victory at home in the last meeting on Oct. 7.

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