With all the talk this season about teams having dramatically better showings than the years before, the school-best starts and low numbers in the loss columns, it’s easy to forget that this is still a sort of rebuilding season for a few local squads.
Vineland, Our Lady of Mercy Academy, Delsea and Millville all return the bulk of their teams next season.
Vineland will graduate just four seniors and three starters. OLMA’s starting lineup has three seniors. Delsea begins most games with just one 12th grader on the field and Millville rarely starts more than two.
All four of those teams made the playoffs and Delsea is the only one below .500, but gave the Crusaders a glimpse of how good they could be, with wins over Williamstown and Clearview.
Just six of Millville’s 31 goals this year have been scored by seniors, and the Bolts will return two high-quality goalkeepers in freshman Paige Mason and sophomore McKenzie Taylor. Sophomore Hannah Daigle should also return to the pitch next year after missing this season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
OLMA’s top three scorers are juniors, and just six of the Villagers’ 77 goals this year have been scored by seniors. Keeper Devon Donaghy, the owner of nine shutouts this year, will be lost, however.
Unfortunately for Vineland, the task will be replacing the offense. Seniors Abby Dooley, Wendy DeLouise, Sam Turner and Antoniette Isekenegbe have accounted for 16 of the team’s 28 goals this year. But the entire back line, along with sophomore keeper Shelby Money, all return, as does the talented midfield duo of Alex Reyes and Payton Lagerholm.
“Only losing four seniors, it does still hurt because they are a big factor, but it is only four,” Reyes said. “We’re still going to be a strong team, we’re still going to communicate. I’m happy about next year.”
Defensively, Vineland allowed just 17 goals all year, and next year’s squad should only stingier.
“We’re still very young,” Vineland coach Carol Belfi said. “Hopefully they learned this year, and next year we’ll be back again.”
OLMA had some time built into the schedule at the end of the year, but a combination of rainouts, playoff byes and disruptions as a result of Hurricane Sandy has put the Villagers on ice with their 16-1 record since Oct. 18.
The only game scheduled during the current two-week break was a Monday makeup game against Cedar Creek, which was not played. Since OLMA was the top seed in Non-Public B South, it received a bye in the first round and is unlikely to play until next week.
For better or worse, it might be three weeks off for the Villagers, who have now had plenty of time to think about their only loss of the year. That last game was the 2-1 defeat to Vineland.
Cumberland Christian got to take a practice run at its Tri-State Christian Athletic Conference title bid last weekend when the Crusaders played in the Pilgrim Invitational Tournament.
Cumberland Christian went 2-0 to win the tourney, improving to 14-0-2. Senior midfielder Meredith Jones was named the tournament’s MVP after scoring once and registering four assists. Kaitlyn Riggins had three goals and Jada Fields had two. Riggins, Fields and defender Jasmine Brown were all named to the All-Tournament team.
The momentum is now on the Crusaders’ side more than ever as the TSCAC tournament began Thursday. Cumberland Christian has a bye to the semifinals, which will be played today at 2:30 p.m. at the school.
Through Wednesday, just three public school playoff games had been played in the South section. Delsea’s 3-1 loss in Group III came on Saturday. Also in Group III, Highland beat Burlington Township, 2-1. Vineland’s 3-0 loss to Lenape rounded out the games played before Thursday. Completion of the first round is expected to take until early next week while some schools remain without power and therefore cannot play.
1. OLMA (16-1) — Lots of time off for the state-champion hopefuls.
2. Millville (10-6-1) — Plenty of time off to prep for third matchup this year against Egg Harbor Township.
3. Vineland (9-8) — Respectable showing against Lenape to end strong season.
4. Delsea (8-10-2) — Disappointing end for a very promising Crusaders squad.
5. Schalick (9-7-1) — Tied Delsea, now looking to make noise in the playoffs.