WEST LONG BRANCH – There is a Sports Wall of Fame inside Shore Regional High School.
It is hard to miss.
There are 24 plaques with 22 of them representing female athletes. Of those 22 women, 15 played field hockey.
And that’s the sport that rising star Sarah Dwyer has played for the Blue Devils for the past three seasons.
“I walk past it (the Sports Wall of Fame) every day,” Dwyer said. “Those plaques are representing those players’ individual goals, but when they were here at Shore Regional, they weren’t playing to be an All-American.
“They were playing for their teams and they were playing for their teammates.”
The humble approach has taken Dwyer from playing on the grass field behind Shore Regional High School to playing internationally on the United States Field Hockey U-17 national team in Belgium. In just over a year, she’ll join the Boston College field hockey team roster.
But before all that, she has one more year of high school field hockey left to make a case as one of Shore Regional’s decorated athletes.
When it all started for Dwyer
She credits her two older cousins Erin Dwyer and Ashley Dwyer for piquing her interest in field hockey, one of Shore Regional’s most successful sports. She was in sixth grade and a total novice to field hockey when an opportunity to shine presented itself.
“Sixth grade was the first time I picked up a stick and I used my cousin’s old stick. I had gone to a Jersey Intensity (her club team now) clinic and I played the field as a forward,” the junior said. “During my seventh grade middle school year we needed a goalie because the previous goalie graduated. So, I was always the kid that stepped up, so I said sure. Why not?”
It was a decision — a switch from playing the field to now guarding the cage — that would change Dwyer’s field hockey career forever. She was now the last line of defense instead of being the first line of offense.
And she brought a reputation for standout goaltending to Shore Regional.
“Especially around here, when field hockey players are coming into Shore Regional and they have skill, you hear about them before they get here,” said Harry S. Chebookjian, the assistant principal of athletics and activities. “The talk was there is a good goalie coming in named Sarah Dwyer and she did not disappoint.
“She is a fabulous player and on top of that she’s just a great person and a great student athlete.”
From West Long Branch to Europe
It wouldn’t be long before the rest of the country found out how good Sarah Dwyer, 17, was at playing field hockey.
A year ago, she started her journey through the USA Field Hockey pipeline through the Futures program. She worked with coaches and got selected for the regional futures championships. From there, she got picked to participate in the national futures championship. After that, she ascended to the junior national camp. And then she cleared the final hurdle and was placed on the U-17 national team.
As a part of the national team, she got the opportunity to travel to Belgium earlier this year to participate in an international competition and play against some of the world’s best field hockey players of her age group.
“I was one of two goalkeepers that went on the trip and we traveled to Belgium for about nine days,” Dwyer said. “I think it is an incredible honor to be a part of something much bigger than yourself and to represent the United States and put on that uniform.”
And on that seven and a half hour nonstop flight from Newark International Airport to Belgium, Dwyer soaked up as much knowledge as she could from her teammates and her USA Field Hockey U-17 coaches to prepare to face world competition.
“We had amazing coaches, Kristine Holmes-Winn (Princeton University Head Field Hockey Coach) and Jarred Martin (Duke University Associated Head Coach) and we played three games in the nine days that we were over there,” Dwyer said. “We drove to the Netherlands and played a club team there and we tied them 2-2. Then back in Belgium, we played the Belgium U-17 national team twice and the first time we tied them 1-1 and the second time we won 7-1.”
Back to business
Return to the high school field
The USA Field Hockey national team experience was the exclamation mark on Dwyer’s very successful 2014-2015 school year.
She was selected as the Asbury Park Press First-Team All-Shore goaltender after helping the Blue Devils (21-4-2) win the Class B Central division title, advance to the Shore Conference Tournament final, win the NJSIAA Central Group I title and the NJSIAA Group I state title. In the 2014 season, Dwyer made 107 saves to increase her two-year career total to 181.
With one year of high school field hockey left, her high school coach Kelly Koenig is excited to see what Dwyer does in 2015.
“I have high expectations for Sarah. I think Sarah did a nice job controlling the backfield (in 2014). Also, I know there are definitely areas she wants to continue to improve on,” Koenig said. “She works very hard on her individual skills like her clears and her saves in the offseason. She is always developing her game.”
And practice, especially in the offseason, can only benefit Dwyer and Shore Regional when the Blue Devils kick off their 2015 season this fall as the defending NJSIAA Group I state champion.
In 2014, Shore Regional played quality field hockey programs like Rumson-Fair Haven, Lawrenceville, East Brunswick, Moorestown, Wall, Bernards, Newton and Collingswood. With a similar schedule expected for 2015, Dwyer will be back in the cage for the title defense year.
“If you have a strong goalkeeper, which we are fortunate to have with Sarah, and that goalkeeper understands the elements of the game, it can keep your defensive unit structured and really help your offensive moment,” Koenig said.
What does the future hold?
When she’s played her final game for Shore Regional in 2015, Dwyer won’t be far from the Garden State playing field hockey in college.
In October 2014, Dwyer picked Boston College as her future destination after Shore Regional High School. When she started the recruiting process, Dwyer admitted she didn’t know what to do exactly.
“I had always considered all divisions of field hockey,” Dwyer said. “When I started to visit schools, Boston College was one of the first schools that I visited and it just clicked right away. I just had that feeling about it.”
Former Boston College head coach Ainslee Lamb led the Eagles for 10 seasons and compiled a 121-75 record and guided the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament four times (2005, 2009, 2013 and 2014). In her final season, Lamb guided Boston College to a 13-7 record, it was that type of consistent success that attracted Dwyer to the Chestnut Hill, Mass.
“Boston College’s head coach Ainslee Lamb just resigned (on March 10, 2015) and she was intense and ran a very successful program and her assistant coaches at the time Kelly Doton and Carolyn Cahill made me feel right at home. Right away, I just had a good feeling about the school.”
Doton was promoted on March 11, 2015, to the head coaching job at Boston College. And in one year, she’ll get one of the best goalies in the state of New Jersey on her roster.
“My dad kept reminding me that you haven’t been to that many schools yet as I visited more and more schools it always brought me back to Boston College,” Dwyer said. “I would say to myself, ‘This school didn’t have what Boston College had and I kept comparing every other school to Boston College.”
Motivation is written on the wall
It is impossible to miss the great field hockey players on that Sports Wall of Fame at Shore Regional.
After all, there are 15 of them there.
“To make it up there, that would be an incredible achievement that I would owe to everyone that I played with during my career. I would be astounded,” Dwyer said. “I believe to be crowned an All-American, you shouldn’t be working to be an All-American, you should be playing for your team, doing your job and that will all come with it.”
On that wall, you’ll see names like Carol Middough, Shannon Johnson, Brenna Rescigno, Vanessa Pizzulli, Jessica Coleman, Heidi Waterman and Kathleen Kelly, just to name a few of the many great field hockey players that have worn the Blue and White uniform for Shore Regional.
And if Chebookjian had a vote, Dwyer would already be up there.
“Sarah has played in another country with USA Field Hockey U-17 team and we get to see her play every day,” Chebookjian said. “It is just an example of how special Shore Regional High School is. To have someone of Sarah’s ability represent Shore Regional and represent it well as she does, it just makes everybody here proud.”
Staff writer Sherlon Christie: firstname.lastname@example.org