By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
When you’re talking about field hockey nationwide, Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees sets the standard. The Vikings at one time put together the longest winning streak ever at more than 150 games, have won more than a dozen state championships under coach Danyle Heilig, and routinely are the No. 1 high school field hockey team in the country. Since Heilig took over in 1999, the Vikings have lost just eight of 402 games.
In the Cape-Atlantic League and South Jersey Group 3, it’s Ocean City that sets the standard.
Coach Cory Terry has been at the helm since 2010, and in six seasons has led the Red Raiders to 123 wins and just 13 losses, including a 23-5 mark in the state playoffs. The Red Raiders have won five of the last six South Jersey Group 3 championships, including the last four in a row, and have won the CAL American Conference in each of Terry’s six seasons.
Opponents in the CAL measure the state of their programs by how they fare against Ocean City. If they lose 15-0, chances are they aren’t a playoff team. Lose just 5-0 and they probably could be a playoff contender. That’s how good the Red Raiders are. Cape-Atlantic teams rarely have a chance to beat them. The last time Ocean City lost to a CAL team was Sept. 30, 2013, when Egg Harbor Township scored a 2-0 win.
“It’s flattering, but at other times it’s frustrating. You get teams that are completely focused on trying to beat you, and they’ll go crazy (like they won) if we only beat them by five goals,” said Nicholl Fenton, who just finished up her junior year. “A lot of people don’t know all the hard work we put in. I know no other team around here is working as hard as we are.”
In the past two years, the only teams Ocean City has lost to are Eastern Regional (twice) and Warren Hills (in the Group 3 state championship each year).
“It’s a great thing to be a part of. I’m not surprised that we have gotten to this level because we have a great coaching staff and we work hard all year,” said recent graduate Maria Farnan. “There’s definitely a lot of pressure involved when you have a lot to lose compared to a lot of the teams we play during the regular season. We just worry about ourselves, and I think we are good under pressure. We use that as motivation to continue to work harder.”
Coming into the Ocean City field hockey program as a freshman can be an eye opener, to put it mildly. Farnan and Fenton said they — like most freshmen — were a bit overwhelmed at the intensity level of each practice, each game, each preseason workout.
“The girls who stick with it are some of the best girls in the school. Coming in as a freshman, I was scared to death. You just want to do everything you can to make a good impression,” Fenton said.
“Coming into the program as a freshman, you know the kind of standard you are going to be held to and you know your individual responsibilities, and I think every girl involved has accountability. That’s something that makes us such a dynamic program. Everyone is willing to work hard and I think that’s why we are so successful,” Farnan said. “A lot of freshmen are taken aback at first and don’t really know what they are getting themselves into, but a lot of them stick it out and catch on quickly how intense we are as a program. You do lose some because it’s not what they expected, but it’s just something you have to get used to. I thought it was a lot as a freshman, but you learn to love it. You learn to play with passion and intensity.”
But it’s that type of intensity that has put Ocean City on par with a team such as Eastern. The Red Raiders continue to close the gap on the Vikings. In 2013, Eastern won 8-1. The following year, the result was 6-1. Last fall, Ocean City lost just 4-1 and trailed just 2-0 at halftime.
“It’s a game we always look forward to, especially because we don’t see a lot of nail-biters in the CAL,” Farnan said. “It’s a great game to train for because they are such a competitive team. To be able to compete with them is great, and we use it to learn things about ourselves and learn how we can beat other teams.”
“We try to focus on ourselves as much as we can, but there’s no denying that Eastern is the best,” Fenton added. “I just came from a camp with a bunch of the Eastern girls, and if you want to make yourself better, that’s the standard you have to hold yourself to. People might think that Ocean City is as good as it gets around here, but if you want to take it to the next level you have to compete with them. We don’t want to model our team around them, but they set such high standards that it’s inevitable.”
The byproduct of trying to equal a team such as Eastern is that Ocean City has built itself up to be one of the teams to beat in South Jersey. And that means competing for sectional and state championships on a yearly basis.
“It’s so much fun knowing that all the hard work you are putting in is going to hopefully amount to something more than just a CAL championship,” Fenton said. “Those are nice, but when you look at the bigger picture, there is no better feeling than going to states and being in those high intensity games.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN