Staff Writer

ABSECON — If rookie head coach Christine Conaghy were dreaming about how her Holy Spirit debut would play out, it would probably go something like this — the host Spartans take a 3-0 lead by halftime, cruise to a 5-2 victory over Absegami, have five different players score, have her goalie make a dozen saves, and the only thing to sweat out would be the 95-degree temperatures.

Well, it wasn’t a dream, because that’s exactly how the former Spartans star player’s coaching debut played out. Holy Spirit got an early goal from Ava Catona, added tallies from Marissa Gras and Mariah Witmer before halftime, and was never threatened in its 5-2 Opening Day victory over the Braves in a Cape-Atlantic League National Conference matchup.

“It was definitely good to get that first game out of the way. I was excited. I know how hard the girls have been working, and the talent they had before I even got here. The level they were at was already high. I was really just excited to put to show all the practicing that we’ve put in. (Those) early goals gave us the opportunity to try new things out, some things we might not have done if we were fighting (in a one-goal game),” said Conaghy, a 2017 Holy Spirit graduate who holds the program record with 82 career goals. “We definitely have a few things we have to work on, and that’s what these early games are for — showing them the flaws and gaps in our system. But it was nice to see all the shots the girls were taking. We’ve worked a lot on defending, too, so it was nice to see the girls working as a unit. That was the best thing.”

Junior Ava Catona was one of five Holy Spirit players to record both a goal and an assist during the Spartans’ season-opening win over Absegami. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

“I think she’s a really nice coach. She has a big opportunity to grow the program and I think she’s going to be an amazing coach,” said Mellinda Marigliano, Spirit’s senior goalkeeper and an Absecon resident. “I hope to see us become sharper as a team and closer as a team, and our performances keep getting better.”

On a sweltering day, Holy Spirit (1-0, 1-0 Cape-Atlantic League National) made sure that Absegami (0-1, 0-1 CAL National) didn’t harbor any illusions of an upset win. In the 10th minute, Catona cleaned up a cross that was initially saved to give the Spartans a 1-0 lead. Then, with about 10 minutes remaining in the first half, Catona ran down a long corner kick, sent it back into the box where Gras controlled the ball and let loose a shot from about 15 yards out that found the back of the net for a 2-0 Spirit lead. A few minutes later, Witmer got on the board by pounding home a through ball for a 3-0 advantage.

“It was hot, but I thought that for our first game together we played pretty well. We have such a big opportunity to keep growing as a team, and we have so much potential as a team. I think we’re going to do well this season,” Marigliano said. “I thought we looked pretty good. We’ve been working on our defense the last couple of practices, and the defense really pulled it together. They did well today. Our offense did well with our through balls and passing to feet.”

Absegami got second-half goals from Vivian Liu and Katelyn Moore, but Holy Spirit countered with tallies from Sabrina Little and Ella Petrosh to keep the Braves at bay.

“I think this squad has high potential to make it far in our conference, the CAL Tournament and the state tournament. We just need to stay humble, keep working hard and keep growing from each game,” Conaghy said. “That’s something I told the girls — each game is an opportunity to learn from our failures. And we failed a bunch today, but if we’re learning from that it’s going to pay off in the end. I think we have a lot of potential. I told the girls early in the preseason as kind of a wake-up call that this team has potential and we can’t let it go to waste. I’ve been on a championship team at Holy Spirit so I know what that looks like, and I see that in these girls. We just have to put in the work now.”

WHAT’S NEXT: Holy Spirit travels to OLMA on Thursday at 3:45 p.m. Absegami travels to Cape May Tech on Monday at 3:45 p.m.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan:; on Twitter @GDsullysays