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Sept. 19, 2015 — PREVIEW: No. 2 Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) at No. 1 Voorhees Eastern (N.J.)

This evening at McAleer Stadium, the Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) field hockey team will once again play a high-intensity reputation-making contest against an interconference opponent.

Only this time, the Vikings didn’t have to invite anyone to cross state lines. All they had to do was look to the north.

For the fifth time, Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.) will meet the 16-time Group IV state champion Vikings. It is a rematch of the 2014 NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final which saw Eastern get by Oak Knoll 3-2.

It’s a meeting of champions; Oak Knoll is the current champion of the Union County Interscholastic Athletic Conference, NJSIAA Non-Public North, and NJSIAA Non-Public. When it won the state non-public championship last year, the program pulled off a unique feat; it’s the only school that has ever won a private-school championship (when it competed in the NJISAA Tournament in the mid-1990s), a public-school championship (several NJSIAA Group I titles in the last eight years), and a non-public-school championship (last year).

Eastern, on the other hand, is the current champion of the Olympic Conference, NJSIAA Group IV Central, NJSIAA Group IV, and the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions. Its current string of NFHS-sanctioned state championships, 16, is the longest in history.

Much has changed with both squads in the 10 months since the game took place. Both teams graduated their dominant forwards; Austyn Cuneo of Eastern, Caroline Andretta of Oak Knoll. Both teams have plenty of talent at their disposal in the younger classes, though it is notable that Oak Knoll started five freshmen in last year’s Tournament of Champions final.

Oak Knoll is, I think, the more motivated team coming into this game. They have been replaying the chances they fumbled away or shot wide during last year’s final at Rider University. They have replayed in their minds the last three corners they earned in the final five minutes of the game, only to hit the outside of the cage or Eastern goalkeeper Cassie Kincaid’s moonboots.

Oak Knoll will have three sisters of team members from last year’s squad heavily involved. Kirby Comizio, Ali McCarthy, and Gabby Andretta are all going to be heard from not only this evening, but for years to come. I think the team will also have a motivation from the current team members who were on last spring’s girls’ lacrosse championship team that won that Tournament of Champions over a highly regarded Summit (N.J.) team.

But Eastern will likely once again have more athletes in next summer’s Young Women’s National Championships (the 2016 successor to the Futures Elite Championship) than any other school. Start with midfielder Madison Morano, defender Alanna Golotto, and forwards Mackenzie Keegan and Nikki Santore.

For Eastern to win the game, they are going to have to manufacture goals from the run of play, because Oak Knoll is extremely well-coached on corner defense. Head coach Ali Good was a corner defender as a player, and she has gotten her quintet of specialists to play as good a defense in the mad scramble of the defensive corner as anyone ever has on the scholastic level.

For Oak Knoll to win the game, they are going to have to not lose the ball against Eastern’s high pressure, and they are going to have to get a good game from sophomore goalie Jordan McGinley. Perhaps it is unfair to put such pressure on goalkeepers in high-octane contests such as this, but the great fear that coaches have in field-invasion sports (field hockey, lacrosse, ice hockey, soccer, and the like) is that a goalie can both physically and psychologically flip the expected result.

A final note: the winner of this game will take the lead in the all-time series between the two teams:

2007: Oak Knoll 3, Eastern 2 (OT)
2010: Oak Knoll 4, Eastern 2
2013: Eastern 3, Oak Knoll 0
2014: Eastern 3, Oak Knoll 2

It should be a fantastic contest between two good teams. We should be live from McAleer Stadium from 5:45 p.m. this afternoon with pregame coverage on this site.

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