Ready to make a run: Holy Cross field hockey poised for playoff push

Holy Cross Prep has fallen in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs for three straight years but has a new-found confidence that could make them a darkhorse contender in October.

Holy Cross’s Bevan Gebhardt, Maddie Britton, Bobbi Warner, Kaylin Trembula and Elena Shallow celebrate Warner’s goal that gave the Lancers a 4-0 lead over Pennsauken. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

Over the course of a season, there are signature moments or turning points that can alter the course for a team. 

Sometimes it’s an unexpected, crushing defeat that turns a complacent team into a hungry one eager for revenge. Sometimes it’s an upset win that gives them a new confidence and catapults a team into state title contention.

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There is still a lot of field hockey remaining on Holy Cross Prep’s schedule, but they began the third week of the season with one of those moments, one that could perhaps unlock the Lancers’ true potential. 

Holy Cross Prep, a school with an enrollment under 225, outlasted one of South Jersey’s biggest schools, Rancocas Valley, with a 3-2 overtime victory on Sept. 16. Senior Elizabeth Pakan tallied the first goal since the opening half to send the Lancers to victory.

“Probably our biggest win in years,” Holy Cross coach Brooke Hullings said. 

It was Holy Cross’s first win over their Burlington County Scholastic League rival since 2013. 

“We were really pumped after that,” senior Bevan Gebhardt said. “It was a lot of grit and digging down. We felt like our conditioning in the preseason helped so much, we were able to keep running into overtime.”

Holy Cross teammates Samantha Mongrandi, goalkeeper Rebecca Zito, Bevan Gebhardt and Elena Shallow gather in the cage on defense before a penalty corner. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

The Lancers rode that momentum to taking a season-long, seven-game winning streak into the final week of September. The season’s first loss arrived against Cinnaminson on Monday, but Holy Cross still believes that this might be the year they can translate regular season success into postseason staying power.

In each of the last three seasons, Holy Cross saw its season end in the quarterfinals of the Non-Public South NJSIAA state tournament. But the Lancers have also steadily improved as a program during that time, too, moving from 12-8 in 2016 to 12-7-1 in 2017 to 14-3 (and 10-0 in division play) last season.

With the versatile, Quinnipiac University-bound Gebhardt controlling the action in the middle of the field and fellow senior Rebecca Zito (a third-year starter at goalkeeper) solidifying the defense, the Lancers have consistently strong and sound veterans leading the way.

“I think our biggest strength is we have a lot of scorers and a lot of players who are hungry for the ball,” Gebhardt said. “We have four or five different people that can score, so it’s not just one person there’s pressure on to score or to get the ball to. As a midfielder, I’m bringing the ball up and I have a lot of people I can pass to and I can trust they’ll get it into the circle or into the goal.”

Holy Cross senior Bevan Gebhardt lets loose on a backhanded shot. (RYAN LAWRENCE, South Jersey Sports Weekly)

“(Bevan) is all over the place on the field,” Hullings said. “She’s back on defense, on defensive corners, she goes on the attack. Even if she’s not the one scoring she’s the one setting it up or getting it in transition from backfield. And Allison Nemeth has stepped up and has been racking up all of the goals. … And we have Liz (Pakan) who’s great on attack on the post, always there to knock the ball in.”

Just as Holy Cross had (and passed) an important test in mid-September against Rancocas Valley, it’ll have another in the regular season finale in a  few weeks: the Lancers play at Moorestown, owners of 18 state championships, on Oct. 18.

It could be another signature moment. If nothing else, it’s a unique opportunity for the Lancers to see where they stand among the South Jersey elite with potential matchups against Camden Catholic or Bishop Eustace in the non-parochial playoffs.

“I think that’s what’s helping us keep our energy up, being the underdog in these games,” Zito said. “We really have nothing to lose, so we leave everything on the field and play our hearts out. It’s been working out for us.”

Ryan is a veteran journalist of 20 years. He’s worked at the Courier-Post, Philadelphia Daily News, Delaware County Daily Times, primarily as a sportswriter, and is currently a sports editor at Newspaper Media Group and an adjunct journalism instructor at Rowan University.
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