By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Following the South Jersey Group 3 semifinal game against Seneca, the Ocean City field hockey team spent about 45 minutes running around the track that circles the new turf field at Carey Stadium. No, the Red Raiders didn’t lose the game and the running wasn’t punishment from head coach Corey Terry for a poorly played game. In fact, the Red Raiders dominated, winning 5-0 to advance to the sectional championship game.
So, why were the players spending so much time and energy running, after a game in which they spent 60 minutes running up and down the field? Welcome to the Ocean City field hockey program.
Coach Terry and her staff demand excellence, and players who come out for the team every year know what they are getting themselves into. Terry was an incredible player during her time at Ocean City and went on to have a very good college career at Princeton University. A drive to be the best has lived inside of her for her entire life, and while some may bristle at the demands she puts on her players, that is her coaching style — and it’s tough to argue with the results.
In seven seasons, Terry has posted a record of 145-17, won seven straight Cape-Atlantic League American Conference titles, five South Jersey Group 3 crowns and three of the last five Group 3 championships. She’s also 28-6 in postseason games, with five of those losses coming in either the state championship or Tournament of Champions. The Red Raiders went 22-4 this fall and captured another state championship, blanking Warren Hills 5-0. The Blue Streaks had beaten Ocean City in the state championship game the past two seasons.
“I couldn’t be happier with the game and the season in general. That was probably one of the most dominant state championships that we’ve had. I think what I was most impressed with was how the girls came out fired up and ready to play from the start. Other than a short lull in the first half, they played hard the entire time. It’s been an objective of ours to get the girls to come out fired up and pick up the level of play the whole 60 minutes, so I was happy with that,” Terry said. “There’s nothing more satisfying than a 5-0 state championship win. I think they had so much adrenaline that they were playing a little erratically as opposed to sticking to the plan. There was a moment when I thought they were not sticking to the plan, but other than that short lull, I thought it was a very well played game.”
If there was any lingering doubt that Ocean City field hockey truly is a South Jersey dynasty, that doubt was wiped away this fall. Along with winning three state titles in five years, the Red Raiders also have won 10 in the past two decades, and their only losses this year came against Eastern Regional, West Essex and Camden Catholic. West Essex beat Eastern in overtime in the TOC final, as those teams finished Nos. 1 and 2 in the state, respectively.
“This year, we came out wanting it more than (Warren Hills). We came out more intense from the beginning, and I think that was the difference. When you can put a couple of goals on the board early it breaks them down a little bit. And if we could stay with that intensity throughout the game we knew it would wear them down. I felt like this year we were more confident and we had the tools to beat them. We had those tools the other two years, it just took us putting it together and playing our game the whole time. This year we were able to do that, and it showed,” said senior Alexis Paone. “A lot of us had so much experience on the varsity level, and having our season end the way it did the past two years lit a fire under us and made us work really hard, even from the beginning in June. We had to be on top of our game every day until we got to states. We felt that pressure a little bit from our coaches. They encouraged us the whole time, but at the same time the reminded us that we didn’t want this season to end the way the past two did.”
This year’s team was made up of nearly a dozen seniors, and the Red Raiders got contributions from the entire lineup. Rialee Allen — who finished her career as the leading scorer in school history with more than 100 goals — led the way, but all kinds of players had key roles, including Julia Herrington, Grace Steele, Haleigh Flukey and Britney Stein on offense, Paone, Shannon O’Reilly and Nicholl Fenton in the midfield, and Issy Gilhooley, Megan Keenan, Phoebe Prettyman and Reese Bloomsted on defense. And sophomore goalie Maddie Kahn had an outstanding year after transferring from Eastern. Even reserve players such as Julie Reeves, Colton Salomon-Lowden and Lainie Allegretto played their part during the season.
“Any of our starters would be studs in any other program, and we even have subs who would be starters on most other teams. What’s really beautiful about this group — and this senior group led the charge of being relentless with their fitness and practices, and holding everyone to a high standard. When you have everyone holding each other to a higher standard, that brings up the level of the team. When you have a couple of players with that mentality, it’s contagious. These girls were constantly pushing each other,” Terry said. “It can be difficult when you have that much talent sometimes. All of these girls, deep down, just wanted this team to succeed and they supported each other the entire way. I know Rialee broke a lot of records, and was very deserving of those records, but she acknowledges that none of what she accomplished would be possible without all the miles her teammates ran and all the effort they put in. It’s really cool that this group has always had each other’s back. It’s definitely a sisterhood, and I think they will remember the bond they have for the rest of their lives.”
Allen epitomized what this year’s Ocean City team was all about. She may have been the leading goal scorer, but she’s such an unselfish player that she also led the team in assists.
“Riley has worked so hard. She has such a good work ethic and never gives up. She’s pretty much a perfectionist. She does everything she can to be the best, and it’s really inspiring to our team because she just doesn’t give up. She’s a tough competitor and you can see how much she loves the game. I loved having her has a teammate because she pushed all of us to give our best. I know she will do great things in college,” Paone said. “She’s always in the right spot at the right time. She puts herself there because she knows where everyone’s shot is going to go. She’s really smart and is able to put herself in front of the goalie to tip shots in. But she’s not selfish at all. She looks for the open teammate and is always looking out for what is best for the team.”
“Julia stepped it up big time toward the end of the season, and in the postseason she was just incredible. And Nicholl and Alexis anchored everything, and Rialee is kind of that fire. Britney was on point in the state final, and coming off a concussion this year, Grace really stepped it up,” Terry added. “And we had younger players like Shannon, Reese and Maddie who stepped up. I was really pleased also with Issy, Megan and Phoebe stepping up their defensive game throughout the season. This whole year has been a culmination of a lot of hard work and dedication to the program, and I’m grateful to be a part of that.”
There was a hunger among this team, particularly the seniors. They had seen former teammates such as Kelly Hanna, April Stein and Lauren McNally lead the team to a championship when they were the stars of the team, and wanted to leave a legacy of their own. This year’s seniors were a part of a state championship team as freshman, and they desperately wanted to win one while they were the main players.
“I think this speaks to our program and how much it has been built up throughout the years, and how much people look up to our program and want to be a part of it. That’s a huge testament to all the past girls who have set this up. Everybody who comes through here wants to keep the tradition going and works as hard as they can to be the best,” Paone said.
“They knew going into this year’s final that the last two years did not end the way we wanted them to. Last year, (Warren Hills) scored within the first couple of minutes because we came out flat. We dominated the rest of the game, we just couldn’t score. So, the girls knew they didn’t want that to happen again. I think it’s a good lesson for them. I can say to them that they need to give all of themselves for a full 60 minutes, but I think the experiences they had make it real for them. Coming out as fired up as they did this year gave them that real-life experience where they can feel it,” Terry said. “For this senior group, when you have seniors ahead of you who are captains who take the reins for so many years, I think what’s most impressive is they took the reins and they were hungry. They wanted it to be their time and they were hungry. They have been talented players since their freshman and sophomore years, and this year they felt like finally it was their senior year and they wanted to leave their own legacy and keep the tradition going. The biggest thing for them was finishing the job this year.”
Terry said she knows sometimes fans and opposing players and coaches may think she’s a little nuts. She’s very animated on the sidelines and doesn’t hesitate to let her players know when they are not living up to expectations. She demands excellence. That’s just her coaching style, and she doesn’t plan on changing anytime soon.
“We know she’s like that and we respect that because she has played at the highest level and she’s experienced everything that we all hope to in college. She knows what it takes and what we have to do to be able to play the best we can. Any type of criticism we get from her, we try to absorb it and apply it as best we can. Fans might not understand why we run after games or why we do some of the things we do, but it’s just to put us on that next level, and I think that’s what separates us from a lot of the teams we face. We run that extra mile or do that extra drill (after a game) to reinforce everything we do. I think, at times, people might not get how intense we are, but I think that separates us from an average team and makes us a great team,” Paone said. “Sometimes you are tired and just want to go home and you’re wondering why we have to do all this, but you step back and realize that it helps us a lot and that’s why this program is so good. We do stuff that other teams don’t. Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate during the season, but we appreciate everything (the coaches) do for us and how hard they push us, and how much they give of themselves to the program.”
“I think, for the most part, fans know I can see the potential in these players and that I hold them to a high standard. To me, having the experiences I’ve had as a player, I see the simple little changes they could make that could make them that much more successful. In many cases, we’re trying to break bad habits and make them understand. When we’re able to do that, we can really execute at a higher level. Me being on the sidelines and demanding execution from them is just trying to elevate their game every opportunity we get,” Terry said. “State championships are incredible, but each year there is a new dynamic. The senior class determines the feel and the vibe of the season. It’s those bonds and experiences we have, the goofy little things we experience together, even if it’s just in practice. Something that is special is the group dynamic and the bond we have on an everyday basis.”
Terry said her players know when the adrenaline is starting to boil up inside their coach. And even having won three state titles in the last five years isn’t enough to allow her to relax. Champions always want more.
“I don’t think I can ever just cruise-control it. I’m a pretty intense person. A lot of times the energy I have is the pressure that I put on myself. It’s that passion and drive, and that’s tough to have as a coach when you have been there as a player. You’re used to taking care of business on the field yourself, and it can be hard to transform that,” Terry said. “I don’t know if it will ever be easy, but it’s very much worth it in the end. The girls know where it’s coming from with me, and I think they know it’s not me trying to be a mean, grouchy person, it’s just the fire I have. Alexis said to me, ‘you’ll start talking to us and you’ll be very calm, then we see the intensity rising as you continue talking.’ She said that kind of intensity is hard to contain.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN