Cherry Hill West field hockey turns the page on winless season, kicks off 2015 with a win
Cherry Hill High School West field hockey ended more than 22 months of frustration in its season-opening game against Cherry Hill High School East on Sept. 11.
After suffering through a winless 2014 season, the Lions beat the cross-town rival Cougars, 2–0, giving the program its first win since Oct. 30, 2013. The win snapped a 21-game losing streak for Cherry Hill West and gave the team a boost of confidence it hadn’t had in some time.
The win was the first for Lions second-year head coach Bridget Schaeffer. Despite coming off an 0–20 season in 2014, she was confident heading into the 2015 season opener because she knew how much this year’s team had improved.
“I knew we were going to win,” Schaeffer said. “I knew we were ready. The girls had the fire I’ve been looking for (since) last year.”
There were a lot of factors going into the Lions’ winless season. The team was very young, with only one senior in the starting lineup. With lots of new faces plus Schaeffer in her first season on the sidelines, 2014 was going to be a rebuilding season.
“With me as a first-year head coach, it was an adjustment period for the girls and it was an adjustment period without all of those seniors there,” Schaeffer said. “We had to build from a lot.”
Despite being such a young team, many of the players were frustrated about failing to record a win. Senior Ciara Brickner, the Lions 2014 leading scorer and one of the team’s two goal scorers in the win over Cherry Hill East, said playing on the road on turf was especially hard.
“We never practice on turf, so we didn’t know what it was like,” Brickner said. “The movement of the game was so much faster.”
Going winless ended up being a spark for the young Lions. With nearly the entire 2015 team having going through the winless season, Cherry Hill West entered this year hungry to get a win early on.
“Having a losing season last year actually was an advantage for us this year,” senior Hannah Johnston said. “Knowing how it feels to lose makes you want to win even more.”
Schaeffer saw a much-improved team take the field during the 2015 preseason. Beyond improving their skills on the field, Schaeffer said the team’s attitude is completely different from last season.
“When we came out this year, we were a team again,” she said. “Last year, we were putting together the pieces of a puzzle, and this year, we’re all doing it together.”
Senior Madison Bruhn said the team didn’t focus on the long losing streak or last year, but instead came together with the determination to improve in 2015.
“It was in the past,” she said. “We just wanted to move forward. We have a really good connection with each other.”
In the season opening game, Cherry Hill West got a lead in the first half on a goal from Brickner for a 1–0 lead. With 8:05 left in the second half, Johnston got a pass from Bruhn and put it in the cage for a 2–0 lead. Senior goalie Anne Mullarkey made a pair of saves to preserve the shutout, and the Lions were finally able to celebrate as time ran out.
“It was easily one of the best days as a coach I’ve ever had,” Schaeffer said. “There was so much pride; there was a sense of team unity. Just seeing them react to that win was one of my best coaching moments.”
Beating Cherry Hill East made the win extra special for many of the seniors. The Lions had not beaten the Cougars the past three seasons. The two teams tied in both 2012 and 2013. In 2014, Cherry Hill East swept the two-game season series.
“It’s a great feeling that you beat East in your senior year,” Brickner said. “We watched the seniors three years in a row not get that chance. It felt really good knowing we accomplished that.”
Having finally ended their losing streak, the Lions are convinced there are more wins to come this year. Prior to 2015, the Lions’ last win was in the 2013 Central Jersey Group IV playoffs, a 2–0 road win against Manalapan. The team nearly pulled off a surprise run to the semifinals that year, taking a strong Freehold Township team to overtime before losing, 1–0, in what turned out to be the first defeat in the Lions’ long losing streak.
Brickner believes Cherry Hill West has the experience and talent to get a playoff win like in 2013 and advance even deeper into the postseason.
“Even in the second round, we only lost in overtime by a goal,” Brickner said. “It was a really close game, so we can definitely get back there this year.”
Regardless of how the rest of the season turns out, however, the 2015 team can continue through the year knowing their record will be better than last season.
“We already won a game,” senior captain Lauren Versace said. “We’ve already improved from last year.”