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Archive for December 10, 2018

Dec. 10, 2018 — An appreciation: Barb Major, head coach, Lawrence Notre Dame (N.J.)

One in an occasional series.

Barbara Major, the head field hockey coach of Lawrence Notre Dame (N.J.) who put in a shift that would last half a century, announced her retirement last week.

She’s one of only one of four known scholastic field hockey coaches who have 50 years or more of service as a head coach. And she did it the hard way. Major has remained one of the few coaches in the United States who annually teaches the basics of the game to incoming ninth-graders at the Roman Catholic school located just a few miles from the New Jersey state capital.

Her coaching wasn’t a matter of coaching players with rudinemtary middle-school or CYO experience. It was even more basic than that: more of the, “This is a stick, this is a ball” instruction. Her dedication has rubbed off on her players for years, and has given a number of her players a platform to play field hockey at the next level.

Notre Dame’s best team may have been her 1994 squad, which saw at least two of her players matriculate to Division I, and may have been an inch away from playing for a state championship. The Irish, having already won the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III title, met Lacey (N.J.) Township in the state semifinal match at Columbus Northern Burlington (N.J.).

Lacey was a team which relied on a physical defense (a style which may receive a raft of cards in today’s hockey), as well as the dead-eye corner striking of Jennifer Melnyk, who eventually took her talents to Rutgers. Melnyk had scored an early goal to force Notre Dame to chase the equalizer. The Irish thought they had a deflected ball into the goal cage in the second half, but the goal was not given.

Four days later, it was Lacey which took down what was likely the nation’s No. 1 team in North Caldwell West Essex (N.J.), a side which would feature future Olympian Michelle Vizzuso. The semifinal loss left Notre Dame thinking that it could have been the team to pull the upset of West Essex in the final.

Major’s teams would keep in the headwaters of contending for Colonial Valley Conference, Mercer County Tournament, and sectional honors, but would never have a team with the same talent level as the 1994 side.

But it wasn’t for lack of effort or lack of encouragement. From the coaching box, you could head her voice booming on the other sideline. Perhaps my favorite line of hers is, “Don’t stand and watch!” In a game which involves a lot of running and movement, being rooted to a spot was a cardinal sin to her.

The 2019 season, and beyond, is going to be forever changed in the New Jersey capital region, as Major is the last of The Three Amigos (so named by field hockey writer Jim Davis) to retire, following Joyce Jones of Princeton (N.J.) and Barb Skiba of Pennington Hopewell Valley Central (N.J.) into retirement.

And things aren’t going to be the same. An era has closed.