Thursday, November 13, 2014

Field hockey: Streaks set to face nemesis in G3 final

Wins certainly have been plentiful for this group of Warren Hills field hockey seniors.

The Blue Streaks have won a school record 22 in each of the last four seasons, including notching the program's 600th overall with Wednesday's 6-1 victory over Northern Highlands in the Group 3 semifinals.

But getting No. 601 would mean the most of all.

For the ninth time in school history, Warren Hills (22-3) will play for the Group 3 championship when it takes on nemesis Ocean City on Saturday at Bordentown High School. Game time is 2 p.m.
Warren Hills eyes another trophy for its collection. (Michelle Pulsinelli Profita)

The Blue Streaks are eager to end an 0-for-8 skid in the finals, including a heartbreaking 1-0 loss in double overtime to the Red Raiders a year ago.

"I'm very happy it's Ocean [in the final]," said senior forward Sydney Muntone, who became the Streaks' single-season goals leader at 29 with a pair against Northern Highlands. "I didn't want to play anyone else. My sophomore year, we lost, 2-0. Last year it was in double overtime. We're getting closer and closer."

Can this finally be the year?

"Might as well be," said veteran coach Laurie Kerr, who is 0-6 in state finals in 15 seasons at her alma mater. "It's got to [happen] some time."

Muntone, who needs two points for that single-season record and one assist for the career mark at Warren Hills, leads a potent offense that's averaging four goals per game in the postseason and has produced 140 overall (5.6 goals per game). Sophomore forward Dani Profita, a star in the making and a big-game performer who also had two goals in the Group 3 semifinal win, has 22 goals this season -- 37 career -- and is on pace to break several of Muntone's records in two years.

Muntone, who is heading to Drexel next fall, is one of five seniors to sign National Letters of intent on Thursday -- joining midfielder Nikki Profita (Rutgers), along with backs Amanda Crampton (East Stroudsburg) Allie Brouhard (Sacred Heart) and Amanda Oberly (Southern Connecticut).

Crampton anchors a rock-solid defense that's allowed just three goals during the team's 10-game winning streak. A year ago, the Streaks entered the title game on a school-record 19-game streak.

Warren Hills' ninth appearance in a state final is the most among Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex schools, two more than Belvidere's total of seven in Group 1. The County Seaters won titles in 1989 and '90, in addition to appearances in 1982, '88, '91, '92 and '96. No team from the tri-county area has won a championship since Hunterdon Central (six finals appearances) claimed the last of its three titles in 1996.

Standing in the way, as in five previous years, is Ocean City (22-1), which has won nine titles in its illustrious history, including a 1-0 double-overtime win over Warren Hills in last year's Group 3 final at Toms River East.

Like Warren Hills, this year's OC team features a prolific offense that's racked up 165 goals in 23 games (7.2 per game). Junior forward Jordan Allegretto (36 goals), senior midfielder Lauren McNally (28), senior forward Kelly Hanna (24) and sophomore Rialee Allen (20) are the Red Raiders' leading scorers. Hanna, who scored the game-winner in last year's title game, leads with 27 assists, while Allen has 26 and McNally 25.

Coach Cory Terry's club, which advanced to the final with a 1-0 win over Moorestown, suffered its only loss to Eastern -- 6-1 on Oct. 28. The state's No. 1 team also defeated Warren Hills this season, 10-1 on Sept. 27.

Ocean City also denied the Blue Streaks' title bids in 1999, 2001, '09 and '12. OC's other championships came against High Point (1997 and 2002), Mount Olive (1998) and Ridge (2005). Only Eastern (17), Moorestown (16), West Essex (16), Shore Regional (13) and Shawnee (11) have won more state titles.

Warren Hills also lost to West Deptford (2-1 in 1996), Cumberland (1-0 in 2000) and Moorestown (2-1 in OT in 2003) in title games at TCNJ's Lions Stadium.

The 1999, 2009 and '12 games vs. Ocean City went to overtime. All of the previous meetings were held at TCNJ, except the '09 and '13 contests. In 2009, Colleen Slaughter converted a penalty stroke for the 2-1 win at Toms River East. Outstanding Warren Hills forward Toni Popinko, now an assistant coach at Phillipsburg, was called for a high-stick infraction while attempting to make a goal-line save, resulting in the foul that led to the stroke. Last year,  Hanna ended the drama by scoring off a penalty corner with no time left on the clock.

The Streaks lost 2-1 to OC in 1999, the final game for former coach Luanne Ferenci.

Another Skyland Conference team is looking to end its long final drought and claim the program's first state title, albeit a bit more daunting task.

Bridgewater-Raritan (23-2) has lost the last nine Group 4 final meeting with national powerhouse Eastern (24-0). The South Jersey school has won 16 consecutive sectional and 15 straight Group 4 titles under coach Danyle Heilig (400-10-9 in 16 seasons)., while the program's 17 overall state championships is a state record, Senior forward and North Carolina recruit Austyn Cuneo holds national single-season (96 in 2013) and career (321 from 2011-14) goals marks. She leads the Vikings with 88 this season.

Prediction: Warren Hills 2, Ocean City 1.

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