Alexa Van Doren, Gigi McAlpin and Sage Riso were on a mission to make the 2019 season last as long as possible.
Not only are they the only seniors on Clearview field hockey, but none of them have plans to play in college, meaning 2019 was likely the final time any of them would step on the field.
“You have four years to put in so much work,” Van Doren said. “To think that this is your senior season, none of us are playing in college, so we’re trying to make the season last as long as possible, because we know this is the last time we’re going to put our hands on a stick.”
The three seniors didn’t know it when practice began in August, but their season would be one for the ages. The three were captains of Clearview field hockey’s first-ever state championship team after the Pioneers downed Warren Hills, 2-1, on Nov. 9 to win the Group 3 state title. On Monday, Clearview kept its magical postseason run going with a 2-1 win over Shore Regional in the program’s first-ever Tournament of Champions game.
“I knew we were going to go far, but I didn’t know we were going to go this far,” McAlpin said. “Toward the middle of the season, I realized this was a really special team and it just felt different than last year. We felt so much closer and just played well together.”
Clearview was the new kid on the block in this year’s Tournament of Champions. The other teams included Eastern, Oak Knoll and West Essex, three teams who have combined to win all but one Tournament of Champions since it began in 2006, and Shore, who has participated in the TOC six of the last eight years.
Despite the lack of TOC experience, the Pioneers entered Monday’s play-in game against Shore with confidence and determination.
“It’s an amazing feeling because … I know we’ve put so much time and effort into getting this far and I know this was one of our goals from early in the season,” Van Doren said. “We knew we had a strong team this year, we didn’t know how far exactly we’d go.”
Some of the Pioneers couldn’t have imagined playing on a stage as big as the Tournament of Champions back in August, but head coach Britney Ewan was confident in her team.
“I knew they had the potential,” Ewan said. “It was definitely going to be a long road, as a coaching staff we knew that. But one thing I can say is that these girls work hard every day. So on top of the talent we know we had and we knew that was coming in and the chemistry they have this year, we knew it was 100 percent possible.”
The Pioneers’ lineup is a diverse group with multiple freshmen such as Gabby Andres, Darian DeLeo and Ava Lomonaco playing large roles on the team. Offensively, Clearview has been led by juniors Abby Vesey (33 goals), Grace Trovato (22 goals and 17 assists) and Allie Palumbo (19 goals and 32 assists).
The senior trio added their own contributions throughout the season. Van Doren anchored Clearview’s defense as the sweeper in its formation. Riso added leadership up front and was one of four goalscorers in the state semifinal win over Burlington Township. McAlpin chipped in 11 goals this year for Clearview, including the first goal in Monday’s Tournament of Champions win.
“Honestly, I didn’t think about it like that,” McAlpin said after realizing she scored Clearview’s first-ever Tournament of Champions goal. “It was exciting. It may be one of my last goals of the season. It’s good that I got one more in.”
One more goal. One more game. One more win. It was the mission Clearview embarked on when it kicked off the playoffs on Oct. 26 against Hammonton, and regardless of how Wednesday’s meeting with Oak Knoll turns out, the 2019 team will go down as the greatest in Clearview field hockey history.
“I told them after the state title, I am so incredibly proud of what they’ve done this season, for themselves, for the team, for their school, for their families,” Ewan said. “It’s almost indescribable.”
“It’s a great feeling,” Van Doren added. “You know you’ve made a mark. You know your coaches are going to be talking about you throughout their careers, saying this is the first team that did it. These are the first girls that got us to this point. It will be a great legacy to leave behind.”