Monday, October 17, 2016

Field hockey: Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex rankings

We have a big week on tap with the sectional playoff cutoff on Tuesday and the eighth annual Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament title game on Saturday -- a rematch between three-time defending champion Warren Hills and Hunterdon Central.

Warren Hills (13-2) is making a tournament record seventh finals appearance, while Central earned back-to-back trips to a county final for the first time appearing in three straight Hunterdon-Warren championship games in 1996-98.

The Blue Streaks scored a 2-1 win over the Red Devils in last year's final and when they met this season on Sept. 10 in Raritan Township. Warren Hills owns a 40-28-10 edge in the all-time series dating to 1967, and has won 11 straight meetings since a 1-0 loss at home in 2007. But Central (8-5) is a hot team right now.

"We're very confident and really excited," said Red Devils coach Jenn Sponzo, whose team is seeking the program's first HWS title and its first county championship since 2003. "I think we're peaking. All five of our losses are to Top 20 teams in the state."

Speaking of long winning streaks, Voorhees saw its 12-game streak against Central snapped with a heartbreaking 2-1 loss in Saturday's HWS semifinals, a game that was ultimately decided by two rounds of penalty strokes. Tough way to lose for sure, and it was the second straight year that the Vikes were ousted in the semis on strokes. Warren Hills did the honors last year by the same 3-2 margin.

Check back here at the end of the week for a complete preview of the HWS final. Now onto the rankings:

1. Warren Hills (13-2) -- Blue Streaks, who have won six in a row, are back on top by virtue of Hunterdon Central's victory over Voorhees, which beat Warren Hills 1-0 in overtime on Sept. 27. Junior forward Tali Popinko has really helped pick up the offense of late, scoring two goals in a 3-2 win over High Point in the HWS semis. Junior forward Alyssa Appleby scored her 10th goal of the season to help the Streaks advance. Warren Hills needs a win over Voorhees on Thursday to claim a share of the Skyland Conference Raritan Division title.

Up next: Phillipsburg at home on Tuesday; at Voorhees on Thursday; Hunterdon Central in the HWS championship game at Hackettstown.

2. Hunterdon Central (8-5) -- Red Devils scored one of their biggest wins in years on Saturday by knocking off No. 2 seed Voorhees for the first time since 2005. Coach Jenn Sponzo's team avenged a 1-0 loss to the Vikings on the same field on Oct. 5. Junior Brittany Bill forced overtime with her seventh goal of the season. Senior midfielder Nikki Freeman converted both of her penalty strokes, while junior forward Kali Huck's stroke in the second round was the winner.

Up next: at Hillsborough on Tuesday; Bridgewater-Raritan at home on Thursday; Warren Hills in the HWS championship game at Hackettstown.

3. Voorhees (13-3) -- Vikings have wins over Warren Hills and Hunterdon Central this season, but fall to this spot after Saturday's defeat, which snapped a seven-game winning streak. The loss also denied the Hunterdon County school, seeking its first title since 2012, of its fourth trip to the tri-county final. Senior midfielder Hannah Schiavo, who was outstanding in the loss, set up Cassie Boyce's goal against Central that broke a scoreless tie. A win over Warren Hills on Thursday will clinch the Skyland Conference Raritan Division title.

Up next: Montgomery at home on Tuesday; Warren Hills at home on Thursday.

4. Hackettstown (11-4) -- Tigers scored an impressive 4-0 win over Newton on the road on Friday and hung tough in a 2-1 loss to Voorhees in the HWS quarterfinals. In between, coach Stephen Speirs' team scored a 1-0 win over Delaware Valley, a game also played on grass. Sophomore forward Madison Hoskins had two goals and two assists in the win over Newton, while sophomore Jordan Vandermark also had a pair of goals and leads the team with 12 this season. Big game on Tuesday against High Point as a win would clinch the NJAC Freedom Division title.

Up next: High Point at home on Tuesday; Lenape Valley at home on Thursday.

5. Newton (11-2) -- Braves slipped at home for the first time this season -- a 4-0 loss to Hackettstown on Friday -- after being shut out for the second time in three games. Coach Lisa Bechtel's team also dropped a 1-0 decision to Warren Hills in the HWS quarters. Senior Natalie Rivas had a goal and three assists in a 6-0 win over Jefferson last Monday. Newton, which can clinch the NJAC Colonial Division title with a win and a Wallkill Valley loss this week.

Up next: at Kittatinny; at Wallkill Valley on Thursday; at Johnson on Saturday.

6. High Point (8-5-2) -- Wildcats made a nice run to the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex semifinals and hung tough after falling behind by two goals early in an eventual 3-2 loss to Warren Hills in the semifinals on Saturday. Junior Cassady Bruning and sophomore Tyra Wingle scored goals for the 'Cats, who have been without senior forward Kelsey Little (four goals) since she sustained a finger injury in the team's  3-0 loss to Delaware Valley (Pa.) on Oct. 7.

Up next: at Blair Academy on Monday; at Hackettstown on Tuesday; Vernon at home on Thursday in annual Play Pink game.

7. Belvidere (10-2-2) -- County Seaters, who have quietly had a nice season, capped a 2-0 week with a 2-0 win over North Hunterdon on Saturday. Sophomore forwards Angie Santini and Maddie Call scored goals in the win. Call has been a big boost to the offense -- three goals and two assists -- since returning to the lineup after an illness. Santini struck for three goals in the team's 4-0 win over Somerville on Thursday, an important step toward claiming the Skyland Conference Mountain Division title.

Up next: at Mount St. Mary on Tuesday; North Plainfield at home on Thursday.

8. South Hunterdon (6-6-2) -- Eagles also went 2-0 last week, getting their first wins in October -- 3-0 over Stuart Day and 1-0 over Delaware Valley on Thursday. Senior midfielder Rebecca Godown scored a pair of goals against Stuart Day, while senior forward Carly Leary, who assisted on one of Godown's goals, had the winning goal against Delaware Valley. Senior goalie Giovanna Rubino has four shutouts.

Up next: North Plainfield at home on Tuesday; Mount St. Mary at home on Thursday.

9. Delaware Valley (8-4-1) -- Terriers have hit a rough patch following their 5-1 start, dropping three in a row with Thursday's 1-0 loss at South Hunterdon after a 1-0 defeat to Hackettstown on Tuesday. Junior forward Sarah Babcock and senior midfielder Ann Bill enter the week with a team-high five goals. A win over Franklin and a Bernards loss to Somerville would set up a showdown on Thursday for the Skyland Conference Valley Division title.

Up next: Franklin at home on Tuesday; at Bernards on Thursday.

10. Wallkill Valley (8-6) -- Rangers are hanging onto the last spot in the rankings despite a 1-0 loss to unranked Sparta on Oct. 4. Spartans dropped a 3-2 decision to Lenape Valley on Wednesday and the Rangers scored a 4-1 win over the Patriots on Friday. Junior forward Fiona Blake had two goals and one assist, while junior Morgan Carr added a pair of assists in the victory. Carr also notched two goals in the team's 2-1 win over Blair Academy on Wednesday.

Up next: at North Warren on Tuesday; Newton at home on Thursday; at Morris Knolls on Friday.

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