Saturday, October 24, 2015

Field hockey: Profita-led Streaks earn county 3-peat

HACKETTSTOWN -- Warren Hills' field hockey team is making a habit out of winning county championships and star forward Dani Profita continues to carry on the family tradition as well.

Profita scored a pair of goals, including the decisive blow with 12:37 left in the second half, as the Blue Streaks rallied for a 2-1 win over Hunterdon Central to claim their third straight championship in the seventh annual Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament on Saturday at Morrison Field.

In doing so, Profita claimed her second straight Most Valuable Player Award, while the junior forward became the first player at Warren Hills to score 30 goals in a single season. Sydney Muntone previously held the record with 29 in 2014. Nikki Profita, Dani's sister and current player at Rutgers, was named MVP in 2013 when the Streaks won their third of a record five HWS titles.

"It's pretty cool," said Dani Profita of setting the school's single-season goals record. "I was just trying to help the team win and whatever happens, happens. It's an awesome feeling knowing our hard work is paying off."

Warren Hills (17-1), the No. 3 seed and riding a 15-game win streak, was in control early in the game and much of the first half until Hunterdon Central (14-5), the No. 8 seed, popped in the first goal just 3:19 into the second half. Senior forward Jillian Murray cashed in on the Red Devils' first corner of the half and just the team's third shot-on-goal.

In the rare position of trailing in a game, Profita pulled Warren Hills even when her sweet reverse-stick shot off a feed from senior Rachel Phillips found the back of the cage with 24:13 left in the second half. Profita's second goal -- again off a penalty corner and on a reverse stick into the left corner -- put the Streaks ahead to stay with 12:37 left on the clock.

Central coach Jenn Sponzo called a timeout with 9:35 left and urged her girls to stay on the attack with plenty of time left and down by just one goal. The Red Devils managed to get two corners in the final three minutes but were unable to get off a shot on either. Warren Hills back Brie Schwab made a nice goal line save, while goalie Jackie de Raismes stopped three shots in the game.

After a 7-1 loss to Warren Hills on Oct. 6 and coming off a 3-2 setback to Group 4 power Bridgewater on Thursday, Sponzo was extremely pleased with how her team played in the rematch. Central was making its first appearance in a county final since 2007 (Hunterdon-Warren) and was seeking its first title since '03.

"Just to get here, it's been an amazing ride and journey," said Sponzo, whose team knocked off the Nos. 1 and 4 seeds to reach the program's first HWS title game. "The loss to Bridgewater gave us a lot of confidence. The girls know we can play with the top teams. We had nothing to lose today."

Warren Hills' first-year coach Kate Rothman, clutching the trophy after the game, was equally as proud of her team for rallying back while playing without senior forward Megan Thompson, who suffered a concussion in the thrilling semifinal win (2-1 on strokes) against No. 2 seed Voorhees last weekend. The Streaks are now 23-2 overall in HWS games dating to 2009 and have won 10 in a row against Central since '08.

"Sometimes when you take one of your players out of that cog, it throws things off," Rothman said. "But they stepped up and played hard. Hunterdon Central is much improved since the last time we played them. They gave us a run for our money. We were down, 1-0, to Voorhees, but my team is mentally tough. When things aren't going your way and you're not playing you're best, and you find a way to win, that's the mark of a great team."

"When we were down, 1-0, [to Central] there definitely was a sense of urgency," Profita said. "But we kept our composure. We wanted to get that championship again."

Rothman made a key adjustment at halftime by moving Profita from the center forward spot to left wing and it really opened up things on offense.

"It allowed us to pull the ball away from the center of the field, and we were able to control the ball and get it into the circle," Rothman said.

Profita, who ranks third on the Streaks' all-time goals list with 69, said this victory will give her team a boost heading into the NJSIAA sectional playoffs that begin next week. Warren Hills is the No. 1 seed in North 1, Group 3 and will begin its quest for back-to-back Group 3 titles at home on Nov. 2.

"We still have the same goal as last year," said Profita, who helped the Streaks earn their first state title in nine attempts last season. "It's a new year and we're still focused [on winning the Group 3 title]."

Hunterdon Central is the No. 2 seed in the North 2, Group 4 draw and could meet up with nemesis Bridgewater for a third time this season should both advance to the championship on Nov. 5.

The Panthers have won 10 straight sectional titles and finished as the Group 4 runner-up behind Eastern in all of those seasons. The Red Devils, who have won 13 sectional titles, are 8-22-2 against Bridgewater during Sponzo's 17 seasons and have lost seven straight meetings since a 2-1 win in 2013.

Hunterdon Central (14-5)            0                  1              --    1
Warren Hills (17-1)                      0                  2              --    2


Second half -- HC, Jillian Murray, 16th, 26:41; WH, Dani Profita, 29th, (Rachel Phillips), 24:13; WH, Profita, 30th, (Mikayla Dugan), 12:37.

Shots -- Hunterdon Central 5; Warren Hills 6.

Saves -- Molly Lafferty 4 (HC); Jackie de Raismes 3, Brie Schwab 1 (defensive) (WH).

Penalty corners -- Hunterdon Central 5; Warren Hills 14.

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