By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
LINWOOD — Normally, Ocean City is the team to beat in the Cape-Atlantic League in field hockey. The Red Raiders have a long history of success and almost annually are ranked as one of New Jersey’s top 20 teams. This year, however, the Red Raiders find themselves looking up in the CAL American Conference standings at surprising Egg Harbor Township.
The Eagles raced past host Mainland Regional, 5-0, on Wednesday afternoon to improve to 10-0 overall and 9-0 in the CAL American — two full games ahead of Ocean City (7-1, 6-1), a team EHT beat 3-2 back on Sept. 17. EHT is now 21-3 the past two seasons and have avenged all three losses — to Hammonton, Mainland and Ocean City — from a year ago.
“We’ve been playing really well as a team, we’re 10-0, and I think we’re going to go far this season,” said sophomore Jenna Gray, who had a goal and two assists in the win over Mainland on Wednesday. “We all mesh together well. We’ve been practicing a lot on our transfers and we’ve been doing really well with getting the ball up top and getting balls into the net.”
“When I first came in as a freshman we were good, but it was only (head coach Kristi) Troster’s second year of coaching so we kind of had to build the team from the bottom up,” said senior Addison Jacobs. “It’s been nice to see the team grow, and now we’re at the top. It’s awesome. Our team chemistry is really good. We’re all friends with each other and we all trust each other on the field. If somebody says for me to pass the ball, I just pass it because I trust they’ll be there.”
EHT took a 1-0 lead on Mainland (4-5-1, 4-4-1 CAL American) in the first quarter, but the Mustangs held firm the rest of the half and were down just 1-0 at halftime. But the Eagles turned up the heat in the third quarter, netting four goals to sprint out to a 5-1 lead. EHT took a 2-0 lead with 13:25 to go in the third then added on at the 8:36 remaining mark when Gray drove the length of the field and dished off to Julia Zapille, who scored to make it 3-0. Kara Wilson added a goal about a minute later, and Gray capped the scoring with 5:24 remaining in the third.
Junior Anna Smith said it was defensive intensity that turned into offense in that decisive third quarter.
“We just talked about how we needed to pick it up as a team, start moving the ball and covering the spaces they were getting the ball into,” she said. “We really needed to work together to get back to block up (their passing lanes).”
EHT is one of just two remaining undefeated teams in the CAL along with St. Joseph Academy (9-0, 8-0 CAL National) and the Eagles are the second in the league in scoring behind Hammonton with 48 goals. EHT has allowed just eight goals in its first 10 games and it will need a similar defensive effort during a tough stretch in October that kicks off with a rematch against Ocean City on Oct. 6. The Eagles also face Williamstown, Vineland, Millville and West Deptford in succession.
“It’s exciting to play tough teams and knowing you’re on top and everyone’s coming for you,” Smith said. “It’s a big nerve wracking, but it is exciting (to be in first place). It’s going to take our teamwork and our communication to stay there. That’s always been strong and we’re just trying to continue that.”
“We know everyone is coming for us and our coach always tells us we just have to play our game and do the basic things right, and that’s what we did today, and we got the ball into the net,” Jacobs said. “We’re definitely confident, but we know we still have to work hard because when you’re on top everybody is coming for you. But we are confident and we know we can go far this year. The biggest challenge will be beating teams a second time (through the schedule). We beat Ocean City once and they’ll want us more; we beat Hammonton, so they’ll want us more. We just have to keep playing well against those good team.”
What’s next: EHT hosts Bridgeton on Friday at 3:45 p.m. Mainland travels to Vineland on Friday at 5:30 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays