At the start of every season in any sport there is usually only one thing on a coaches mind, and that is to win. But for field hockey head coach Julie Vaccarelli of Rumson-Fair Haven, their was a lot more than the thought of winning on her mind this season.
In March of 2012, Vaccarelli received the worst news any 25-year-old woman wants to hear: that she has breast cancer. After having surgery in April, and spending the summer undergoing chemotherapy treatments, she had a tough decision on whether or not she was going to coach her third season with the Bulldogs.
Vaccarelli showed her toughness and her strength and was able to fight through her cancer, and decided to come back and coach the sport she loves. After battling one of the biggest diseases for women, Vaccarelli never lost focus on her team, and guided the Bulldogs to their best season in school’s history.
“Coming back to coach this season was the best decision I could of made,”said Vaccarelli. “I felt like being on the sidelines and coaching these girls was a part of my healing process. My whole team was so supportive this entire season, and they inspired me, and made this season so special for me.”
The Bulldogs were able to finish with an impressive 20-3 record, and claimed their third consecutive Class A Central division title.
“This season has been so exciting,” said Vaccarelli. “My whole team should feel a sense of accomplishment, and I have a lot of seniors who have been here for the past three seasons, and we were able to win these titles together.”
Her team made their first Shore Conference Tournament final appearance in school’s history, but suffered a 2-1 loss to 14-year defending champions Shore Regional.
“My mindset going into that game was to just take the pressure off,” said Vaccarelli. “We all knew going in how many years in a row Shore won, but my girls played their best game that day, and they all stepped up when I needed them to.”
They won the Group II North 2 sectional title with a 3-0 victory over Madison High School. The Bulldogs went to the Group II semifinals, but lost a tough 4-3 overtime game against West Essex.
Throughout the regular season they put together a 15 game win streak with their only regular season loss coming from Ocean Township, 2-1, in the third game of the year.
“This whole season has just been an incredible experience from the beginning,” said Vaccarelli. “This award was a team effort and I could not have won it without my assistant coaches and my team who all added something special to this season.”
Vaccarelli was a star field hockey player at Shore under current head coach Nancy Williams. She was a first team All-State, two-time First Team All-County, and First Team All-Shore selection.
“I have so much respect for Nancy Williams, and what I learned from her as a player,” Vaccarelli said. “I carried what I learned from her as a player to how I coach my girls today. There were three important things I learned from her and that is hard work, dedication and teamwork.”