By Matthew Rocco
The Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School field hockey team is still tops in the Shore Conference after a nail-biter of a win over Shore Regional High School.
The two rivals met in the Shore Conference Tournament finals Oct. 30, and the game lived up to the hype. An early goal on a deflection by Rumson-Fair Haven’s Elena Werner proved to be the decisive play in a thrilling 1-0 victory for the Bulldogs, who brought home their third straight conference championship.
“They earned every bit of it. They were tough when it really counted,” Rumson-Fair Haven head coach Julie Brewington said.
The only other field hockey program to complete a three-peat is none other than Shore Regional, which accomplished the feat five separate times from 1999 to 2013.
Werner, a sophomore, put the Bulldogs in front eight minutes into the game. Grace Jamin sent the ball toward the net, and Werner deflected the shot past Shore Regional goalie Molly Santi for the only goal of the title game.
The Bulldogs, with help from talented midfielder Lily Croddick, were in attack mode during the first half. Shore Regional got only one shot on goal before halftime, and Rumson-Fair Haven goalie Alexandra DeVito was there for the stop.
Still, Shore Regional’s defense proved up to the task, keeping the Bulldogs out of the net after Werner’s goal and giving the team a chance to even the score. Santi had eight saves on the day, while defenders Anna Cooper, Kaitlyn Hunter and Nicole LaMorte denied the Bulldogs from extending their lead.
The Blue Devils eventually found their stride offensively, as all three of their penalty corners came in the second half. But the Bulldogs never lost their own toughness on defense.
“I think our defense did a really great job. We tried to limit their corner opportunities, and us getting that goal early was huge, but it’s hard when you’re up 1-0. Definitely in the beginning of the second half, Shore came out strong on the attack. We knew we couldn’t sit on that one goal,” Brewington said.
The Bulldogs managed to swing the momentum back in their favor, pushing up the field in search of some breathing room. And the Bulldogs would have broken the game open in the final minutes if it wasn’t for Santi, who made two clutch saves on back-to-back penalty corners.
Those missed opportunities offered a lesson for Rumson-Fair Haven — a squad preparing for a state showdown with Robbinsville High School this week.
For the Bulldogs, winning the Shore Conference Tournament checks off a box on their list of goals this season. There’s more to do, though, as the team looks toward the state tournament and attempts to succeed where they fell short a year ago.
“I think today, we couldn’t do as good of a job as we could in the passing game,” Brewington said after the conference finals. “The goal was to get up early. We put that one goal in, but we told them that’s not necessarily going to be enough. We wanted to keep attacking, and we had a little bit of a letdown.”
The Bulldogs (19-1) may have some work to do, but their successful defense of the Shore Conference Tournament crown gave them a well-timed boost of confidence.
Robbinsville, the third seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group II bracket, was scheduled to play the second-seeded Bulldogs in Rumson Nov. 1. The sectional semifinals will decide which team earns the right to play No. 1-seed Wall High School or No. 4-seed Delran High School in the finals Nov. 3.
Last season, Rumson-Fair Haven’s only loss during a 21-1 campaign came in the sectional finals against Wall.
Shore Regional (19-1-2), the Group I champion in each of the last three years, is also battling for a sectional title this week. The first-ranked Blue Devils were slated to face No. 4-seed Arthur L. Johnson High School in the North Jersey, Section II, Group I semifinals Nov. 1. No. 3-seed Henry Hudson Regional High School and No. 2-seed Madison High School are on the opposite side of the bracket.