On Sept. 11 at Lawrence High School, the Cardinals won a big field hockey showdown over Allentown High School, one of the best programs in central Jersey, 3-1.
Lawrence improved to 4-0 with the impressive victory.
But more importantly, the game was a lightbulb moment for the team’s coach, Megan Errico. Up until that point, Errico knew she had one of the best scorers in New Jersey in sophomore Talia Schenck and a solid lineup of returning starters around her.
But Errico was still just cautiously optimistic. She expressed hope before the season that the Cardinals could go from good, they went 10-9 last fall, to great.
“We’d like to win the (Colonial Valley Conference’s Valley) Division,” Errico said before the season.
Then, less than a minute after setting that goal, she took a step back and measured her optimism.
“But as corny as it sounds, I hope it’s just a fun season for the players,” the coach added.
On Sept. 11, she realized she was right to be optimistic. There was no need to measure it anymore.
Not only did the Cardinals beat a great team, but they looked like one themselves. Schenck did her thing, scoring all three goals. But Lawrence also dominated the game, controlling possession and playing great defense, outshooting Allentown 20-9.
As the game ended, Errico knew the Cardinals could be great all season. And she looks correct in her assessment. Lawrence is 7-2 and has outscored opponents 38-7.
“The Allentown game made me realize how ridiculous every position is,” Errico said. “Everyone supported each other.”
“I wasn’t sure if we were just an offensive team but now we’re well rounded,” she added.
Schenck, who scored a program-record 39 goals last fall and became a Division 1 collegiate prospect, is playing even better this fall. She has scored 28 goals with about half the season still to go.
But Errico expected this from Schenck. The surprise has been Lawrence’s defense.
Three starting defenders, junior Olivia Szela, senior Carly Brummel and senior Nicole Seeburger, are back from last year, as is goaltender Madison Wingerter, also a senior. They are all a year older and better.
Wingerter in particular is thriving. The senior, who also plays goalie in lacrosse, is just a crazy goalie, says Errico, and she’s crazier than ever in her last high school field hockey campaign.
“She’s loud and she communicates, and she demands that the defenders listen,” Errico said. “She’s very skilled, too.”
Szela, Brummel and Seeburger play stout defense in front of Wingerter, but last year they were missing one piece: An aggressive ball stopper. Errico moved junior Ashley Belgrave, a forward in 2018, back to defense to play that role.
Belgrave’s attacking forward tendencies make her perfect for the sweeper role. Whenever opponents dribble near Lawrence’s zone, Belgrave attacks the ball like a field hockey Ed Reed. (Hall of Fame football safety for the Baltimore Ravens.)
“Ashley has no fear,” Errico said. “She’s still refining her skills but her mindset is perfect.”
Lawrence has one of the best scorers in the state and an elite defensive unit. So now Errico is confident enough to set at least one more goal.
“Our goal is definitely to win the division and be seeded high in the Mercer County Tournament,” she said. “Little achievable goals and then go from there.”