By Wayne Witkowski
It’s an exciting time for Jackson Liberty High School girls soccer coach Sarah Hayek.
Hayek, who starred in high school across town at Jackson Memorial High School, was inducted into Rider University’s Athletic Hall of Fame June 11. In a college career ending in 2003, she scored 41 career goals in 84 games, which still stands atop the record list — one more than Tami Coyle, who ended her career the following year.
“It may not seem like a lot,” Hayek said modestly, though no one after Coyle has as many as 30 career goals. “[The induction] was exciting, especially for my mom and my family.”
And with the Rio Olympics opening Aug. 5 and a lot of focus expected to be placed again on the American women’s team, it just adds to the excitement for Hayek and for her Jackson Liberty team for the upcoming season. The Lions had their fifth annual alumnae game Aug. 5 and open preseason practices Aug. 15.
Hayek will start her third season as head coach and has been with the young program on the coaching staff since 2007, a year after the school was opened, losing only one player from its first graduating class. She has seen it get established and has 27 players to start with and many young returning players.
Five freshmen started at one point last season when the Lions ended a 7-13 season with a decisive opening-round loss to Toms River High School East in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III tournament. Four players graduated, three of them starters, off last year’s team, as the Lions were 6-8 in the Shore Conference B North Division. Those starters include sweeper Catelyn Veneziano, center midfielder Sam Obara and outside fullback Morgan Posna.
There also is an incoming group from Christa McAuliffe Middle School, which Hayek said will be a huge asset to the program and good for the future.
“Our athleticism is fine, but we need more team chemistry, which was a problem last year, and we had injuries at the end,” Hayek said. “It wasn’t about getting along. They need to better know what the other player is going to do.”
That should be remedied a bit with the experience many players gained last season.
“Fitness level is huge, especially in the midfield,” Hayek said. “They’ve been working out and received a workout plan to follow over the summer. But once we get started, I’ll get an idea of what game shape they’re in. A lot are multiple-sport athletes, some playing basketball, a lot played lacrosse and a couple [competing in] track in the spring, so I know those girls were running a lot in the spring.”
She has a new staff with assistant coach Dana Costello, a former Jackson Memorial star who went on to a distinguished college career at Monmouth University, junior varsity coach Jen O’Connor and volunteer coach Ariel Donza, a former Jackson Liberty goalkeeper.
Donza will be working closely with returning goalkeeper Alex Quinzie, who will be a junior this fall.
The defense has two returning freshmen starters in stopper Gina DeJohn and outside back Amber McGee, whose twin sister, Hailey, saw a lot of action last season at forward.
“We’re pretty versatile in the back,” Hayek said.
The team also has back spot starters Jessica Thalen, who showed good speed while she played sweeper and forward, and Bethany Olejarz, a left-footed player who saw action on defense and in the midfield. Both are rising seniors.
Bailey Keenan, a junior this fall, started last season at center midfield, and Sam Yorke started at forward as a freshman. Livia Menafra, a sophomore this fall, came up from the junior varsity team later into the season.
They’ll have a clearer idea of how things are going in scrimmages against Raritan High School, Manalapan High School and Brick Memorial High School.