COUNCIL ROCK'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE LEADS TO NEW EXPERIENCES
By Al Mattei
In many high school sports, good teams are drawn to each other outside of state playoffs. Scholastic basketball has enough draw among its fans to host multi-state jamborees featuring names like Hyattsville DeMatha (Md.), Mouth of Wilson Oak Hill Academy (Va.), Jersey City St. Anthony's (N.J.), and Philadelphia Simon Gratz (Pa.).
Field hockey, however, is just beginning to schedule marquee national matchups. In a span of five days, for example, Newtown Council Rock (Pa.) took on Virginia Beach Frank W. Cox (Va.) and Medford Lakes Shawnee (N.J.).
All three schools come from areas of the country where field hockey is not only well-coached and taught from an early age, but all three schools have had members playing for Team USA this decade. As such, the level of competition in southeastern Virginia, suburban Philadelphia, and southern New Jersey is high enough so that these schools may not even need to prove themselves in interstate matchups.
"In our conference (Olympic), we have wonderful matchups, and not too many games are easy," said the legendary Shawnee coach Bobbie Schultz. "In some places, if you can't get a good matchup, it's good to go look for other good hockey teams."
However, thanks in part to events such as the USFHA's National Festival and Futures programs, players and coaches from all over the country get to know about other top players, teams, and programs.
Council Rock head coach Pat Toner uses this information in making her schedule extremely difficult. Shawnee (nine New Jersey titles) and Frank W. Cox (12 Virginia titles) joined championship contenders Boyertown (Pa.), Lititz Warwick (Pa.), and Souderton (Pa.) on the Indians' schedule.
"I want to make my schedule as hard as possible," Toner says. "And we came through this part of our schedule with a 3-1-1. And with our young team, I'll take that."
The highlight of Council Rock's non-league schedule had to be the five-day period between Sept 18 and 23. The Indians took on a talented Frank W. Cox team in what turned out to be a tentative matchup. Neither team took a great number of chances early: Rock and Cox took more than 20 minutes just feeling each other out, trying to find a weakness.
Both defenses played extremely well between the 16s. Cox fullback Shannon LaVigne had a superb contest, while the combination of Jackie Scullin and Emily Greway played well enough that Indians' goalkeeper Megan D'Arcangelo did not have to make a tough save.
The Rock could not get opportunities in the run of play, but had many chances in its corners. Thanks to a covey of very small players who run well and take advantage of small seams in a defense, the Indians were able to score on their corners. Kim Francis and Krista Breuniger had rebound goals off corners in a 2-0 win.
"We did pretty well, though I was a little disappointed in the last 10 minutes," Toner said. "But we did have a game the day before, and it was our fourth game of the week. We were exhausted."
The following Tuesday, the Indians traveled to the heart of South Jersey field hockey tradition. And there was plenty of energy in both teams. Shawnee came out aggressively, earning a penalty stroke chance in the opening minutes.
Renegades' captain Becky Wood took the stroke, but D'Arcangelo stopped the low flick with her stick. This energized the Council Rock, especially on counterattacks off turnovers, thanks to the defense of midfielder Sarah Burdette, who had excellent games against both Shawnee and Frank W. Cox.
"I never played that much defense in a game," said the senior after the Shawnee game. "Both teams were very similar, but Shawnee was definitely more aggressive. They are a good team."
Shawnee was aggressive all day long, but once the opposing Indian defense was able to secure possession, their forward line of Francis, Breuniger, Nicole Chominski, and Courtney Nasshorn -- none of whom are taller than 5-foot-5 -- were very effective within the Shawnee 25.
Midway through the second half, Chominski scored to give Council Rock the lead. However, Shawnee mounted a huge attack off the hitback, earning a penalty stroke attempt less than two minutes after the Indians' goal. This time, Wood made no mistake and tied the game.
"I'm glad we're playing teams from Pennsylvania," Wood said. "Since we play them in Futures, I'm glad we can play the high school teams."
Before and after the goals, there was beautiful and contrasting hockey. Shawnee's well-schooled players used a medium-range passing game and ball skill, while Council Rock's attack was a series of small pushes.
"They are very good, and capitalized on their opportunities," Schultz said. "And their marking was exceptional. Knowing Pat Toner, I expected a real finesse game."
Despite the good hockey between two superb programs, no local newspapers sent representatives to the game, and college coaches were conspicuously absent. They not only missed a good game but some history. Schultz, during a career lasting quarter of a century with more than 440 wins, had never coached against a varsity team from outside the state of New Jersey.
"This was good for us," said Schultz, "because not only does this not count in our conference, but we also know what we need to work on."
"I was very excited to play them, since I know Bobbie Schultz is a fabulous coach," Toner said. "Their team is excellent, and it was a very good game."