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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Hammonton wins CAL championship

Dan Russoman/THG. Aubrey Ellis (left) shoots toward the Ocean City goal as Red Raiders goalie Taryn Dolka (right) defends on the play during the Cape Atlantic League championship game on Oct. 24.

HAMMONTON—For decades, Ocean City was the nemesis of the Hammonton High School field hockey team.

The Blue Devils never beat the Red Raiders. Last year, when Hammonton edged Ocean City in a regular season matchup, it was believed to be the program’s first-ever win against their longtime rivals.

This year, Hammonton won both regular season matchups between the two teams, and on Oct. 24, the Blue Devils were able to avenge a loss to Ocean City in last season’s Cape Atlantic League championship game, defeating the Red Raiders 2-1 to claim the title.

The third win of the year against Ocean City wasn’t unexpected, but it wasn’t a sure thing, either.

“All day, people were telling me, ‘do you know how hard it is to beat a team three times (in one season)?’ I said, ‘yes, I do, thank you very much.’ At one point, I was googling the statistics and the only thing that was coming up was NFL stuff,” Hammonton coach Kristen Silvesti said.

“But these girls wanted it. It’s the same exact situation we were in last year and they knew that feeling of when it doesn’t work out in your favor. They wanted it. They went undefeated in all of our CAL games this year and they were riding that high. They knew they didn’t want that one loss. And they worked. I think this is one of the best games I’ve seen them play collectively — passing, communication, picking each other up, that was huge,” Silvesti said.

Hammonton grabbed the lead less than three minutes into the game when Jenna Vivadelli sent a cross in front of the Ocean City cage and Kiley Kozlowski knocked it in for the goal.

Ocean City answered quickly, as Taylor Amstutz was able to deflect a shot from teammate Ella Jefferson past Hammonton goalie Angelina Catania to tie the game.

It stayed 1-1 until midway through the third period when Chloe Comunale scored off a penalty corner to put Hammonton ahead 2-1.

“The corner wasn’t supposed to go to me, somebody else was supposed to take the shot,” Comunale said.

“So when it went to me I was just thinking, ‘man, I just need to get this in the goal.’ That’s what I did, and it felt great to get the lead. It didn’t feel like (a 2-1 lead) was going to be enough. I kept saying we need to get one more in to feel comfortable, but having that one-goal lead was nice because it put us in a more confident position for the rest of the game.

Thank God our defense played great because usually a one-goal lead isn’t enough,” she said.

Hammonton’s defense did hold the lead, and the Blue Devils had their championship.

Silvesti gave credit to the Devils defensive unit, led by senior captain Gracie Donio.

“Gracie Donio, she leads those girls and she does a great job of saying, ‘drop; push; calm down. So, I actually have to credit her for how she leads here teammates. She does a great job,” Silvesti said.

Donio made one of the game’s biggest defensive plays early in the third quarter when an Ocean City shot deflected off Catania and looked headed for the cage when Donio slapped it out of the circle.

“Our defense had to maneuver our defensive skills, it was a see-saw motion with one player up and one back,” Donio said.

“There was definitely a higher level of intensity this time so we had to come out strong and get that first goal in. It’s a great feeling. It’s a good feeling for our senior year, going out strong,” she said.

After years of falling short against Ocean City, Hammonton now has the upper hand, something that feels pretty good for Silvesti and the Blue Devils.

“As an alumni of this program who never won against Ocean City, I think this is a different feeling. When I was in high school, it felt impossible [to beat them] but now, hopefully moving forward, whatever team we have knows it’s not an impossible thing. They’ll always be a very hard team to play against, but it’s doable. You don’t see them on the schedule and think it’s not possible, and that’s important,” Silvesti said.

“Some of these girls, I got to coach them in middle school. This senior class, I coached them in sixth, seventh and eighth grade and then I was an assistant coach in their ninth and 10th grade years, and then their head coach [the last two seasons]. So it was a little bit of, maybe poetic justice isn’t the term, but it’s just a great feeling to watch these girls go from little girls who could play to young women who are amazing, phenomenal players. As a coach, I’m proud of them,” Silvesti said.

After winning a league championship, the focus for Hammonton shifts to the state playoffs, where the Blue Devils opened their run with a win against Delsea on Oct. 26.

“Hopefully, this can carry over and we can play well in the playoffs,” Silvesti said.


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