Pinelands Regional Field Hockey Team’s Season Ends in Sectional Semifinals

Nov 07, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy Pinelands goaltender Ally Vezos makes sprawling kick save during the second half of the Wildcats’ 3-0 loss to Delsea in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group II semifinals on Oct. 31.

Sure, it was the last time she’d hug her teammates on the sideline following a game. And, of course, she shed some tears. But Pinelands Regional High School field hockey senior captain Rachel Papernik was happy with how she helped lead the Wildcats this season.

“You grow up on a team and see the seniors and think, ‘Oh, my gosh. I want to be like them.’ You can’t wait to be one of the leaders,” said Papernik, whose high school career culminated with a 3-0 loss to Delsea in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group II semifinals on Oct. 31. “Now, to finally be that senior and have all the younger girls looking up to us as we lead the team, it’s just an awesome experience. Leading this group of girls has been great – just amazing.”

Amazing could have been a way to describe several things when the sixth-seeded Wildcats visited the second-seeded Crusaders. First and foremost was the play of goaltender Ally Vezos, who took up field hockey with just a week left to the preseason. Not surprisingly, it was Papernik who got her on board.

“We were still looking for a goalie, and I convinced her to give goaltending a try,” Papernik said. “I picked her up and brought her to the field. She put the equipment on and I took shots at her – light shots, at first. But she loved it, and she played great all season.”

The Crusaders threw a lot Vezos’ way in both halves, as they easily set the pace for the game with an efficient zig-zag method of moving the ball from the backfield to the front lines. The skill level of their midfielders and forwards clearly indicated which team was going to dominate possession. But Vezos was the difference throughout the contest.

“For a first-year goaltender, Ally’s been amazing this season,” said head coach Liz Law, whose Wildcats finished 13-4-1. “And she was just great today, making ridiculous saves against a team with exceptional skill. She kept us in the game, for sure.”

Despite setting the tone, Delsea couldn’t crack the Pinelands defense or Vezos through most of the first half. It wasn’t until 7:55 remained on the clock that the Crusaders finally broke through. Following a quick restart after an obstruction call, Delsea’s Maddy Visalti gained the circle, split a pair of defenders and fired a low shot on goal from 12 yards away. Vezos kicked it away with her left pad, but Dawn Lombardi sneaked in behind the defense and sent the rebound into the cage.

Just over five minutes later, with 2:31 to go in the half, Delsea’s Hannah Jones rushed through midfield and sent a ball into the circle, where Sierra Guillano ran onto it and delivered a shot, through traffic, past a screened Vezos and into the far corner of the goal for a 2-0 halftime lead.

The Crusaders continued to pour on the pressure through the first 20 minutes of the second half, but again Vezos and the defenders in front of her kept the goals to a minimum. Nearly midway through the half, Vezos made several big stops to keep the game a two-goal contest, including a sprawling split save during a Delsea 3-on-2 rush into the circle.

However, on a penalty corner with just under 15 minutes to go, Hannah Hartwell delivered the ball to Guillano, who fired a low shot from the top of the circle that skipped past two defenders and by Vezos to seal the victory.

Vezos ended up with 15 saves – a season high for a game. And while the Wildcats countered well at times, they didn’t muster many chances on goal, finishing with three.

“Coming into this game, we knew it was a tough matchup,” Papernik said. “We believed we could play with them, but we knew it would be tough. We held them off a lot of times and our defense was phenomenal, but they just had a higher level of skill. That was the difference.”

Law said she couldn’t have asked for anything more than 100 percent from her crew, knowing they were facing a highly skilled opponent. The Wildcats gave her that and more, and she was confident the experience will benefit the younger players returning next season.

“Today was a good example of how high school hockey can be played well,” she said. “This was a higher intensity for our girls, and we’re going to adapt and build our program based on this. Next year, I’m looking forward to increasing the dynamics of our schedule and getting some more games against significantly better out-of-conference teams. I want our girls to see more of this throughout the season, not just in the postseason. What our girls did today wasn’t only about this game. It was about building our program with the younger girls coming back.”

— David Biggy

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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