By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Under the leadership of Jill Hatz, Mainland Regional’s field hockey program built up a reputation as one of the best in the Cape-Atlantic League. Year in and year out, the Mustangs put together a team that could compete with top-notch schools such as Ocean City, Millville and Egg Harbor Township.
Hatz stepped down following the 2021 season to spend more time with her young daughters, and her assistant, Erin O’Connell, is now charged with keeping up the winning tradition.
It’s been a little bit of a transition in 2022 with a young roster and a new coach, but the Mustangs are holding their own as they start to understand what will be expected of them under O’Connell’s leadership. The first-year head coach — a former standout player at Mainland who graduated in 2013 and went on to play college field hockey at Fairleigh Dickenson University — said she’s looking for continued development as the season goes by, and she knows her team has to be ready for the type of competition it will see down the stretch.
“In the second half of the season teams are starting to play their best hockey, so we have to rise to that as well and make sure we’re playing our best hockey,” O’Connell said.
The Stangs currently are 5-8-1 and sitting in third place in the Cape-Atlantic League’s National Conference behind St. Joseph Academy (13-0-1) and Cedar Creek (10-2-2). Mainland had a tough stretch from late September into early October in which it went 0-4-1, but the Stangs got back in the win column with a victory over Oakcrest. Since then, it’s been a couple of setbacks, to Cedar Creek and Middle Township. The Panthers had to work hard to score a 3-1 win over Mainland, and that’s in large part because of goalie Farley O’Brien, who recently notched career save No. 300.
“We switched divisions and that gives us new competition, and the most exciting thing is that our team is young and they will keep growing as the years go by,” said senior captain Emily Smith.
Added Grace Bean, another senior captain, “we have been working on communication, but we still need to work on that. We just need to be louder. But our team chemistry is really good. We’re all really good friends.”
The future looks bright for Mainland, as half of the team’s 26 goals scored this season have come from a pair of sophomores, as Elaina Dinofa leads the team with eight goals and Michaela Werber has added four. Another sophomore, Katherine Crozier-Carole, leads the team with six assists. Of the ten players who have scored either a goal or an assist this year, eight are underclassmen.
“We’re very young, but they are very coachable and they are doing a good job soaking in all of the coaching and all of the instruction that we give them,” O’Connell said. “It’s really just they have to get out there and play, and that’s what they are doing. They listen, they play hard — they are doing all the things we’re asking them to do, so that’s super exciting.
“We need to fine-tune some skills, but we’re playing well and I’m happy with that.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays