Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

June 12, 2022 — History repeating itself, again

Yesterday, Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.), the NJSIAA Non-Public A title-holders in girls’ lacrosse, found itself in the Tournament of Champions final against their town rival, Summit (N.J.), the NJSIAA Group II champions. And for the Royals, six and a half months after the school’s field hockey team lost on a penalty corner taken in the final seconds of regulation, there had to be anticipation and a little apprehension.

For Oak Knoll, there was reason for apprehension. This was the to be the third time these Turkey Hill rivals were to meet in the 2022 season. The squads split two games this year, with Summit winning a regular-season contest, and Oak Knoll winning the Union County Tournament.

But in the T of C final, it was Summit who was able to clamp down on Oak Knoll’s offense, running out 10-4 winners after falling behind 3-1 early. Sound familiar? The Oak Knoll field hockey team had taken a 3-0 lead last November before Eastern came all the way back.

Oak Knoll has had remarkable success in sports requiring a two-inch, five-ounce ball and a stick roughly a yard in length, having won the last four state championships on offer in field hockey and the last seven in girls’ lacrosse.

But the Tournament of Champions is a different animal. A championship only held in the Garden State, it pits the recently-crowned state champions in each enrollment classification against each other in a single-elimination bracket.

It’s a championship which seems to be won by teams hardened by tournament competition. When you look at how the field hockey team at Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) and the girls’ lacrosse team at Moorestown (N.J.) have handled their players in a tournament setting, there is a certain base of institutional knowledge. There’s getting players ready in training, eating right in the team meal the evening before, and how the team recovers after every game.

Oak Knoll, a tiny Roman Catholic school with a fraction of the enrollment of their public school rivals, has been their equal in Tournament of Champions competition.

Which is why it’s so frustrating that the Tournament of Champions, in all sports, is being discontinued after the end of this academic year. It’s not as though the winners of these competitions is running away with the T of C title; they have truly earned their extra championships.

But there have been a number of schools which are of championship level which have never gotten to experience the rarified air of the Tournament of Champions. It is certainly a different experience, and, as a coach, you have to have your team doing everything right on and off the pitch in order to be successful.

I’m still mystified as to why the NJSIAA has decided to get rid of the Tournament of Champions in all sports. Part of the cynic in me says that it is because the new regulation does not affect football, and there are rumors of an extra layer or two of football playoffs in the Garden State in the years ahead.

I’d rather see more playing opportunities for high-school athletes, rather than fewer. I wonder when the Garden State will wake up and realize its mistake.

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