Clear Eyes, Heavy Hearts: Defending state champs overcome tragedy, adversity

Clearview field hockey, which claimed the program's first state title in program history last fall, has lost more than a half dozen players, including a Regional All-American to knee surgery and another senior following a tragic car accident. But the Pioneers persevere.

Clearview Regional High School’s field hockey team, which captured the first state championship in program history last fall, has been decimated with bad luck and tragedy in 2020. Despite a 4-2 loss at Williamstown last week, the Pioneers have persevered. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

Eleven months ago, they made history.

The reserve players of Clearview Regional High School field hockey team stormed the field to celebrate with their teammates. The coaching staff huddled together for an emotional hug. A few minutes later, athletic director Michael Vicente presented them with the Group 3 State Championship trophy, the first for the program. 

Flash forward to Wednesday, in a regular season game at Williamstown. The coaching staff was absent. A handful of the seniors were unable to be there, either. And Vicente had to chip in as an emergency assistant coach.

Clearview lost to their Tri-County Conference foe, its first conference defeat in over a year, but they have a new perspective on wins and losses in 2020. Within the span of a few weeks before and after Labor Day, the Pioneers lost Regional All-American Allie Palumbo to a season-ending knee injury and fellow senior Soraya Reamon to a tragic car accident.

Reamon survived the wreck, an accident that claimed the life of her friend. But her recovery has weighed on the minds of all of her teammates and coaches, who couldn’t have prepared for a start to the season like they’ve had this fall, pandemic or not.

“To come off such a high of winning the state championship last fall,” Clearview coach Britney Ewan said, “we couldn’t have come in any lower.”

Ewan was among the entirety of the high school’s field hockey staff that missed last week’s game in Williamstown while quarantining, per COVID precautions. She has twice tested negative. 

Palumbo, an All-State selection as a junior, when she scored 19 goals and tallied 32 assists despite being a defender, was also absent as she was due to undergo surgery this month. Two other players suffered season-ending surgeries before October, too. Two additional players didn’t come back in 2020 because of concerns of playing amid a pandemic.

Soraya Reamon wasn’t at Williamstown last week either, but her presence was everywhere: the initials “SR” and the number “13” were etched in green ink onto the left shoulder of every varsity field hockey player.

“That was definitely hard,” Clearview senior captain Abby Vesey said of Reamon’s auto accident during the first week of school. 

“We’re playing for her,” she continued. “She just got out of rehab today and is in bedrest for three months.”

Clearview sophomore Darian DeLeo winds up to move the ball upfield. Every member of the Pioneers team is wearing the initials “SR” and the number 13 on their left shoulders this year as a tribute to senior Soraya Reamon, who survived a fatal car accident last month. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

The Pioneers field hockey team will take positive news wherever they can get it.

“We’ve taken a whole new look at life,” Ewan said. “For two weeks, we didn’t know if she was going to pull through. But she’s doing well. We’re hoping to have her present for Senior Day.”

Clearview doesn’t know exactly when Senior Day will be in 2020, but that’s OK. They may not be chasing a state title this fall (no one is, though, since this year’s sports seasons have been truncated) and they may not replicate all of the memorable moments that made 2019 so special, either.

But after losing three of last year’s starters to graduation, and six other players since to serious injury or a withdrawal from sports, the Pioneers are soaking in the small moments and appreciating the time they have together, period.

“It’s been really bad, everything that’s happened,” senior captain Kayla Mills said. “It shows us that you only get one shot, at high school, at life. It’s very scary to know that happened to one of my closest friends. So now we’re playing every game like it’s our last. Even with the whole (COVID-19) thing, it’s opened our eyes, knowing that everyday could be our last day on the field.”

“With everything we’ve had, we’ve been given the chance to play,” said Ewan, who has seen the school’s football team shut out from playing a single game in the season’s first three weeks due to COVID quarantining.

“Every day we have a stick in our hands,” she continued, “is a good day.”

The first-year anniversary of arguably the greatest day in Clearview Field Hockey history is just a few weeks away. On Nov. 9, 2019, the Pioneers scored twice in the second half to knock off Warren Hills and capture the state title. Two days later, they followed it up with a win in the first-round of the Tournament of Champions, too.

All of that might as well be five years ago.

“It feels like forever ago,” said the Kent State University-bound Vesey, who scored a team-high 33 goals in 2019.

“It does, it really does,” added Mills.

But with everything the Class of 2021 has gone through in their first month back in school, Ewan is proud of her seniors, perhaps prouder than when they collected that trophy 11 months ago. They took the field with a target on their back as reigning state champs last month when almost no one knew the hardships the team was being dealt regularly and the tragedy that was weighing on them for weeks.

“It’s been a roller coaster of emotions,” Mills said.

Mills and her fellow seniors have stood tall, continued to persevere, and have played the role of coaches, too, in helping the healthy group of new players without any varsity experience adjust to the high school level.

“It’s not all about their talent,” Ewan said. “But it’s about the people they are, their character and ability to put the team first. … They’re doing everything in their power to keep going.”