By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
CHERRY HILL — The Camden Catholic field hockey team barely celebrated after its dominating 8-0 win over St. Joseph Academy on Thursday evening in the South Jersey Non-Public championship. Sure, a sectional championship was nice, but the Irish have bigger fish to fry. This team was built to win a state championship, not just be considered one of the best in the region.
“Saturday is what we’re looking forward to,” Irish coach Mark Vittese said, referring to tomorrow’s noon tilt against Oak Knoll for the overall Non-Public state championship, set to be played at Bordentown High School. “We expected who we are going to play, and that’s what we’ve been looking forward to since the beginning of the year. (Oak Knoll) has beaten us twice in the championship, last year and two years ago. So we’re looking forward to that.”
Camden Catholic (20-1) made quick work of St. Joseph Academy (17-2-2), jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first quarter and added two goals each in the second and third quarters to push the lead to 7-0. There wasn’t much the Wildcats could do against one of the best teams in the country — and one of the best players, Irish senior forward Olivia Bent-Cole.
“OBC” as she’s referred to barely broke a sweat in scoring a game-high four goals, and spent much of the fourth quarter on the bench as the game was all but decided by then. The Northwestern University-bound star weaved her way in and out of the Wildcats defense before unleashing forehand and backhand shots from all angles.
Her first goal came off a corner and made it 2-0, then later in the first quarter she ripped a shot from 10 yards out to push Camden Catholic’s lead to 3-0.
“It’s so much fun being able to play in and out of the middle with her. Watching her is amazing,” fellow senior Ava Moore said of OBC.
“This win means so much because we’ve worked all season for this and this moment,” Bent-Cole, a Philadelphia resident, said. “Every practice and every game we’ve been trying to perfect the things we need to work on, and I felt like today we really showed well. It was working really well early with our passes in and out, and that’s what we’ve been working on in practice — quick shots and accurate passes.
Early in the second quarter, Madison Logan dished to Olivia Stazi off a corner as the lead reached 4-0, and before the first half was over Logan was the recipient of a nice assist from Isabella Moore. Moore dribbled past a defender and the St. Joseph goalie before dishing to Logan, who calmly tapped the ball into the open cage for another Irish goal.
“We moved the ball well. We played hard defense. If we didn’t have an option, transfer the ball, make the right decision and play hard. That’s been our theme every game — I want us to go out there and play harder than them, smarter, play defense and tackle back hard. We’ll see if that works again on Saturday,” Vittese said. “We’re blessed with great players. From the beginning of the year we said it’s going to take 11 people out on that field to win. When we played West Essex, we scored three goals and Olivia and Ava had none of them. Everyone else contributed, which is what we need. Everybody is going to be watching those two, so if you get yourself open and we find you, you’re going to get chances to score goals and win games.”
Ava Moore said the approach against St. Joseph Academy was the same as it has been throughout the playoffs — a three-game stretch that has seen the Irish outscore opponents 25-2.
“We treated them as any other opponent and just went out there and tried to play our very best game, and it paid off for us,” Moore said. “Our coach is great, he scheduled us such hard games this year and we were so excited for the competition. I think that has really prepared us for any opponent. We’ve gotten so much better throughout the season, and we’re peaking at the right time.”
There isn’t much more Camden Catholic can do to prepare for Oak Knoll on Saturday. They beat Oak Knoll 3-0 in early October and have past just about every tough test coach Vittese has put in front of them. The Irish’s only loss came against Episcopal of Pennsylvania, and Camden Catholic at one point this season be the top-ranked team in the country.
“The good thing is, Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4 in the state have all played each other, which is great because it gets you prepared for the run at the end of the season,” Vittese said. “Kingsway, West Essex, Oak Knoll and us all pick tough teams to play. In our Game of the Year we traveled out to the Hill School (Pa.) and they were No. 1 in the nation at the time. We played really well and won, 2-0. I wasn’t worried about the score, I was more worried about how we played, and we played well. It was a crazy crowd; they had 40 or 50 guys running around screaming their heads off. It was a good time.”
Added Ava Moore, of Southampton, “at this point, we’re so well prepared, it’s just going onto the field on Saturday and out-playing, out-working and out-hustling the other team. At the end of the day, we just have to do everything we can to get the outcome that we would like.”
Bent-Cole is taking a bit more of a cautious approach, but said this team isn’t lacking for confidence.
“We don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves because we never know what they have in their back pocket, so we need to make sure that we don’t come in with a big head. We just have to come in humble and play our game. We have to have each other’s backs; if one person makes a mistake, we all make a mistake. We can’t get ahead of ourselves and we can’t get too upset if we do make mistakes, just forget about it and get on to the next play. That’s the only way we’re going to beat Oak Knoll,” she said. “I think we’re very confident. Everyone is involved, even everyone on our bench, which is rare. Everyone is supportive of everyone else. I couldn’t ask for a better team. I want to win states so I can end my career on a high note, but regardless of the score I’m grateful that I was able to play on this team for four years.”
What’s next: Camden Catholic vs. Oak Knoll at Bordentown for the Non-Public state championship, Saturday, noon. St. Joseph Academy’s season is complete.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays