By Matthew Rocco
The Shore Regional High School field hockey team has won six of its first eight games of the season, giving the Blue Devils an early start as they compete for another state championship.
The New Jersey powerhouse, which has three straight NJSIAA Group I titles to its credit, is once again considered a top postseason contender. So far, the Blue Devils are living up to those expectations. After a loss to Shore Conference rival Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School to open the season, Shore Regional won its next six games against a slate of opponents that included St. Rose High School and Mater Dei Prep.
In their most recent victory, the Blue Devils benefited from having a tenacious group of defenders, and juniors Talia Cantaffa and Abby Kopec each scored for the Blue Devils in the second half. Shore Regional’s defense did the rest in a 2-0 win.
Molly Santi, Shore Regional’s goalkeeper, made four saves to protect the team’s slim lead.
Santi was called upon to replace a standout player in Sarah Dwyer, who has begun her collegiate career at Boston College after playing for the Blue Devils and the USA Field Hockey U-17 National Team. Santi has answered the call, leading Shore Regional to five shutouts through eight games. The Towson University-bound senior recorded 31 total saves by Sept. 26, including 18 saves in the loss to Rumson-Fair Haven.
Santi also kept Rancocas Valley Regional High School out of the net five times when the two teams met Sept. 24. The Blue Devils battled to a 2-2 draw.
“Molly has really stepped up into the role of goalie for us. She has also stepped up as a leader on the team,” head coach Kelly Koenig said.
The Blue Devils (6-1-1) were down 2-1 at halftime against Rancocas Valley but responded with a second-half goal by sophomore Emmalee Olsen. Sophomore Maggie Lamb, a talented forward on the team, got the Blue Devils on the board in the first half.
Shore Regional has thus far found a winning combination of veterans like Kopec and up-and-coming stars like Lamb. Kopec is in her third year as a starter at the varsity level, playing midfielder and defense. She also gained experience during the offseason with the Junior Premier Outdoor League.
The Blue Devils are also led on the defensive side by junior Jaclyn Shapiro and seniors Kaitlyn Hunter, Nicole LaMorte, Victoria LaMorte, Anna Cooper and Katie Lamb. Shore Regional’s offensive attack includes other returning players in junior Amanda Halper and seniors Kelsey O’Neill and Lauren Maul.
Olsen, junior Stefanie Seymour, sophomore Katie Travlos and freshman Lily Santi are new to the varsity team this season.
“We have a lot of young talent on our team. It’s exciting to see them learn from our upperclassmen because we also have a lot of older players with experience. We’re seeing them come together as a unit and make each other better,” Koenig said.
The third-year head coach added that Shore Regional has turned to a balanced passing game this season, something the Blue Devils worked on during the summer and preseason. The players have responded well to the team-first style of play, and everyone is getting into the action as a result.
“We really have a plethora of players that can score, which is something different this year,” Koenig said.
After defeating Haddonfield Memorial High School for the 2015 Group I championship, the Blue Devils are keeping lofty goals for the 2016 season. Near the top of the list is taking back the Shore Conference Tournament crown and avenging a loss to Rumson-Fair Haven in last year’s title game.
“Every year, we set long-term goals for what we want,” Koenig said. “And this year, this team is no different in their desire to achieve in the postseason.”
The Blue Devils were scheduled to face Ranney School in a Shore Conference B Central Division game Sept. 27. They will host Freehold High School Oct. 1 at 10 a.m.