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Nov. 21, 2014 — PREVIEW: No. 4 Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) vs. No. 1 Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)

This evening at Rider University’s Cohen Field, a field hockey game will be played between two state champions.

Despite the fact that they play the same sport, the two participants in this evening’s NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final are a study in contrasts.

Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) is a small Roman Catholic private school in the northern half of New Jersey that has an enrollment of about 550 students from seventh through 12th grades. On the other hand, Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) is a large regional high school in the southern half of the state which has more than 2,000 students from ninth through 12th grades.

The Oak Knoll team, the NJSIAA Non-Public champion, is a reflection of head coach Ali Good. It is a tough, resolute, and sound team on the defensive end of the pitch. Good graduated from Oak Knoll in 1995, just when the team was about to transition from the world of prep-school field hockey in the NJISAA to playing amongst the public schools in the Mountain Valley Conference. The Royals’ finest defensive moment was four years ago this week, when Oak Knoll’s defensive brigade of flyer Mimi Beck, trailer Therese Benvenuti, right-poster Elizabeth Jacobson, left-poster Kyla Cordrey, and goalie Maggie Blackwood managed to withstand 24 out of 25 corners in winning the school’s first and only Tournament of Champions title.

The opponent that day in 2010? Eastern, the Group 4 champion. It’s a team which also reflects the team’s head coach, Danyle Heilig. The team is solid in the middle of the park, doesn’t let up when it has you down, and values the first five and last five minutes of each half of play, knowing that a goal either scored or conceded during those parts of play are critical not only on the scoreboard, but in the mindset of the team. The Vikings’ finest moment when it comes to midfield play had to have been during their 8-0 shutout of Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.), when the team shut down a squad with multiple Division I prospects and age-group national-teamers.

For Oak Knoll to win, the Royals need an excellent game from attacking midfielder Caroline Andretta (59 goals, 30 assists), corner flyer Allison Sayia (12 goals, 12 assists), and goalkeeper Colleen Conway. I think the Royals will give Eastern a good game, as this team and coaching staff have been waiting an entire year for another crack at the Vikings. Last year, in this fixture, senior Ryan McCarthy was helped off the pitch with a knee injury in the first five minutes. Without her, the Royals lost 3-0. This season, her younger sister Ali McCarthy is on the front line for Oak Knoll.

For Eastern to win, the offense will have to jump out on the front foot and take the fight to the Royals. The team has enough attacking firepower in Austyn Cuneo (93 goals), and Nikki Santore (53), but I think the key will be the commitment to shape and defense by the Eastern midfield. Madison Morano is a great organizer in the center of the park, and it will be interesting to see how well the team either pickets or traps on the wings to try to make Oak Knoll relinquish the ball.

One interesting thing to note. Eastern is the highest-scoring team of all time, 253 goals in 26 matches. But when you look the list of the top 10 or 15 highest-scoring teams, not all of them have ended their season with a victory. In 2002, Emmaus (Pa.) scored 188 goals but could not come up with one in the PIAA Class AAA final against a Buckingham Central Bucks East led by defensive midfielder — and current U.S. captain — Lauren Crandall. It’s also notable that Eastern scored 167 goals in 2007, and 169 goals in 2010. Both seasons were ended by Oak Knoll.

Will that happen again? We’ll have the play-by-play this evening.

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