It was no secret that the Bridgewater-Raritan High School field hockey team was up against it when it faced off against perennial state power Eastern in the NJSIAA Group IV final on Saturday at Toms River High School East’s Vincent J. Dvorak Field.
The Vikings entered the championship tilt having won 14 consecutive group titles dating back to 1999, while defeating the Panthers in last year’s Group IV final by a decisive margin.
Bridgewater-Raritan knew the challenge that was laid in front of it and, in the end, left it all on the field after being defeated by the south Jersey power, 3-0.
“I was happy with our performance today,” Panthers’ coach Kathie DeBonis said. “Eastern had quite a few corners and our defensive unit held in tough. For a unit that was brand new year coming into this year, they hung in there.”
Panther defenders had no choice but to stick together, for Eastern compiled a mind boggling total of 24 corners on the afternoon.
When you consider the fact they let up three goals with all the corner opportunities the Vikings (24-0-1) had, speaks volumes about the Bridgewater-Raritan (21-2) defense.
One defender in particular that comes to mind was goaltender Elyse Pyle.
Pyle, a senior who stepped in the cage just eight weeks prior, played a superb game on Saturday. To be honest, she was out of her mind, turning away 20 of the Vikings’ 23 shots.
“The team was so supportive of everything,” Pyle said about the transition from playing the field early on in the year to putting the pads on in goal. “Our goalie from last year would text me and try to help me out. Honestly, without everyone’s support and encouragement, I wouldn’t have been able to get to this point.”
Another defender of note was freshman Ally Mastroianni.
Mastroianni was handed the pleasant task of guarding the best player in the state and, quite possibly, the country.
Eastern’s Austyn Cuneo is the aforementioned player we’re talking about and she has had quite the year and career.
Cuneo entered the weekend with 87 goals on the year, a New Jersey and national record for goals in one season and, as a junior, has already set the all-time record for goals in a career.
Although she scored two of the three Viking goals, Mastroianni did a terrific job limiting the damage to a player that averaged nearly four goals per game in 2013.
For a team that graduated an abundance of talent from its 2012 squad, the Panthers exceeded everyone’s expectations.
With only two players graduating from the starting lineup, you can bet Panthers field hockey will come back strong once again in 2014.
“We’re a relatively young team,” DeBonis said. “Hopefully, they’ll take this as a learning experience and just build upon it.”