There must have been something in the drinking water fountains at Moorestown High School in the last 10 months.
During the 2018-19 school year, the Quakers celebrated state championships in boys basketball, girls swimming, field hockey, boys golf, and both boys and girls lacrosse. And that run doesn’t include the programs that won sectional championships, like both tennis teams and girls soccer.
“Growing up in the youth programs, it was super competitive,” said senior Delaney Lawler, one of a handful of athletes in the school to be a part of two state championship teams this year. “We’ve always been a very driven class, super competitive, it’s even evident in gym class and things like that. Coming into leadership positions this year, we not only were trying to get the best results on the field but also wanted to build a locker room and leave our impacts on the programs, on and off the field – that was important to our senior class.”
“I think it’s a lot of natural talent,” fellow senior Kayla Frank added. “We’re a big athletic group.”
Whatever it was, it was a historic school year. And no athletic run at Moorestown would be complete without the contributions of the program that’s won state titles regularly since the turn of the century, the girls lacrosse team, South Jersey Sports Weekly’s pick for girls’ spring Team of the Year.
Despite a new coaching staff for the first time in 28 years, and despite injuries that kept two All-American players out of action for a month, Moorestown’s most dominant program lived up to the lofty expectations placed upon the team year in and year out.
Moorestown senior Logan Lillie made a pair of saves in the game’s final minutes while Frank, Rylee Brown, and Ashley Nutt combined for eight goals as the Quakers held on for a heart-pounding 9-8 victory over Mendham in the Group 3 state championship game on June 1. It was the 23rd state title in program history and the team’s 16th since 2000.
Moorestown followed that win by avenging one of its five defeats (one of only three to in-state opponents) by knocking off Group 4 state champ and No. 1 ranked Ridgewood in the Tournament of Champion semifinals before falling to Oak Knoll in the T of C final.
After taking the T of C as juniors, and knowing the program has taken home that title in 14 of the last 20 seasons, too, the departing Quakers weren’t completely satisfied with their season.
Still, coming off a state championship for the second straight year and a T of C title in 2018 wasn’t the worst way to finish their high school careers.
“You do have to remind them,” said Colleen Hancox, a 2002 Moorestown graduate who took over the coaching reins from Deanna Knobloch this winter. “It’s a group of such competitive, hard-working kids here that the ultimate goal is always the Tournament of Champions. But you have to remind them of how proud they should be of the sectional win, the state win, winning the T of C semifinals and being a T of C finalist. And once the sting of the final loss subsides, you can really feel how proud of being one of only two teams left in the state.”
Moorestown’s record of excellence extends across more than one generation. With the mounting state title trophies comes the pressure to add your own during your time within the program.
The Quakers seniors who graduated this month saw the team in a rare drought at the conclusion of their freshman year: for the first time since 1999, Moorestown had gone consecutive seasons without winning a state title. The streak extended to three years after their sophomore seasons.
“When we grow up, it’s all we know, winning state championships and winning T of Cs,” said Frank, who scored 22 goals in this year’s postseason run. “So to come out of high school, if we didn’t win anything like that it would have honestly been heartbreaking.”
“We definitely came in and we were fired up,” said senior defender Julia Dalmass. “My sister graduated in 2015 when they lost to Oak Knoll in the T of C semifinals. I knew I personally wanted to come back and win it. I think our grade in general is very competitive, we wanted to win, we wanted to go out winning.”
But having the conviction to win doesn’t guarantee it.
The Quakers, who play an extremely competitive schedule with the best in-state and out-of-state foes alike, won each of their first 10 games, but the victories didn’t come without a price. In one of those wins, on April 13 at Haddonfield, Frank tried to force her way between the goal and a Bulldawgs attacker in the closing seconds, when host Haddonfield appeared to be in position to pull off a stunning, walk-off upset.
While Lillie made the game-saving stop, sending the game into overtime, Frank caught the backswing of the potential game-ending shot on her right index finger. It was her last game for the next month, as she underwent surgery before playing in the playoffs with two screws in her finger. About a week after Frank’s injury, Lillie suffered a concussion and would be sidelined for 3 ½ weeks.
Frank and Lillie were two of three Quakers, along with Lawler, named to the Under Armour All-American Game rosters this spring. Without two of their top players, the Quakers persevered.
They also had two new quasi-coaches.
“Having them on the sidelines as an extra set of eyes was amazing,” Lawler said. “It was awesome for them to build relationships with people I don’t think they would have if they didn’t get injured, getting extremely close with the coaches and being a liaison between what’s going on on the field and how we’re feeling and what the coaches are seeing. I think the injuries were a blessing in disguise because they came back hungrier as well.”
When Moorestown was back to full strength, it was bad news for anyone in its path. The Quakers seniors entered school eager to keep the program’s esteemed record going and left with back-to-back state championships and consecutive T of C appearances, too.
“It’s amazing and something you’ll never forget,” said Nutt, who had a team-leading 79 points in 2019. “I’ll go to college and wish I had this. It’s not only the winning, but the team and all your friends, it’s a family at the end of the day. Everyone is just so close, there’s all of the traditions. It’s just something you’ll never forget. You start young in this town and you’re playing with the same people through the years, since third grade. So to finish it out with these girls, it’s amazing.”
Over the next two weeks, South Jersey Sports Weekly will be honoring the best
athletes from each of the 10 spring sports as well as the best male and female teams
of the season. The selections were made from a collection of high school athletes
from the 20 towns and approximately two dozen schools within SJSW’s Sun Newspaper coverage area. Each of the Player of the Year and Team of the Year stories will appear in
either the June 19 issue or June 26 issue of South Jersey Sports Weekly.