Last season, the Delsea High School field hockey team advanced to its first sectional title game under head coach Meg Unger.
Twenty-seven years into her tenure, Unger had a cohesive unit led by two seniors (Lexi Brown and Lacy Spinelli) that won 15 games and gave her the most successful team she had ever coached.
Well, until maybe this year.
With a 13-4 record and wins in nine of their last 11 games, the Crusaders have become a force in South Jersey field hockey. With two regular-season games left, Delsea has a chance to match its entire win total from 2014 before the playoffs begin in less than a week.
The four losses have come to ranked teams, including a hard-fought 3-1 defeat to unbeaten No. 6 Cumberland on Monday where Delsea came within inches of tying the game numerous times in the second half.
“Our team plays as a team,” Unger said. “We do not have any individuals on our team. I’ve been stressing that all season, to play as a team, and they do. They complement one another, they support one another and I truly believe that a team that works well together is going to be successful. That’s pretty much what I’ve been stressing to them all along.”
The Crusaders have been led by sophomore Nadia Berardelli, who has a single-season, program-record 25 goals to go along with eight assists. Her first season on varsity has included five hat tricks.
“She is so aggressive in that circle,” Unger said. “She just wants to score so bad. She’s relentless. … She is just so hungry in the cage. She just doesn’t want to give up.”
Along with Berardelli and the Parker sisters, Destini and Devyn, the Delsea offense has been energized all season.
The Parkers have combined for 25 goals and 12 assists, with 16 of the goals coming from Destini, who recently broke the Delsea career scoring record (54) formerly held by her assistant coach Liz Unger-Putz. That presence has not only done wonders for the team, but having the siblings next to her has propelled Berardelli’s game to the next level.
“Me and Nadia, we work really good together with our give and go, and whenever my sister hits the ball, me and Nadia are right there,” Destini said. “We know exactly where she’s going to hit it. We know how she plays. We don’t even have to let each other know, it’s kind of like a mind-read game of where we’re going to be, and if there’s a game where we’re not doing well, we pick each other right back up and say, ‘Come on, come on. We got this.'”
Unger believes chemistry, camaraderie and worth ethic have been key to the team’s success and believes those traits will push them even further come playoff time.
“I think that this team — not taking anything away from last year’s team — really connects with one another and they trust one another and they work well together,” Unger said. “We make a few changes here and there and every one of them will play wherever we want them to play. I think they’re so versatile that we can just play them wherever we need them and they’re ready to go back in. They get along and that’s the best part. I’m not saying last year’s team did not get along, because they did, but this team. … They just have that chemistry.”
Coming Up Huge
Four years, 845 career saves and four-straight seasons with 150-plus stops adds up to one outstanding resume.
Pitman goalie Annie Beato has clearly established herself as one of the best goalies in South Jersey, yet she is still focused on getting better.
“It’s really a sense of surprise but it’s also a sense of pride,” Beato said about the amount of saves she has made. “It just makes me want to be even better. … I am very pleased with where I am, but there’s always room for improvement and I’d like to be the best I can be.”
After finishing third in the state with 315 saves in 2014, the senior finds herself with 159 saves through 15 games in 2015. She has seven double-digit save contests, including a 40-save performance in a close loss to No. 12 Clearview on Oct. 5. To show for it, the Panthers are 9-5-1 and sit in first place in the Tri-County Conference Classic Division.
Not only is the success nothing new for Beato, but field hockey is not the only sport she thrives in. She is also a member of the track and field team and plays basketball. She even pulls some of her defensive-minded skills from the court and applies them to goalie.
“I do try to keep the same mindset,” Beato said. “I always want to play with as much intensity as possible. … I transfer a lot from basketball to hockey because I do play a lot of defense. Defense is my absolute favorite thing to do. I always transfer intensity, because the more intense I am, the more successful I tend to be.”
“What she might need some refinement, she makes up for in aggressiveness,” Pitman coach Tracey Pinque said. “She’s got the wingspan and the reach with her size body, because everybody would love her on a basketball court. They’re not expecting a six-foot-plus kid in a goal cage. It makes our opponent’s job tougher and it gives us a chance to be in games and be competitive.”
Stats at a Glance
Here’s a quick look at who is leading the way in scoring for South Jersey field hockey (through Tuesday’s games).
Goals: Eastern’s Nikki Santore leads the area with 40 goals, while Gianna Morganti and Carlina Sacco, both of St. Joseph, follow behind with 29 apiece.
Assists: Santore owns 27 helpers, while Middle Township’s Jenna Herlihy is second with 20 and Ocean City’s Rialee Allen is right behind her with 19.