They held them like prized possessions. They raised them over their heads. They even bent down to give them gentle kisses as a few camera bulbs flashed and parents jostled for positioning to get their own photos.
“It means so much,” Michigan State-bound senior Maddie Lawlor said. “I was so excited going into this game because not only was it my last game with probably the best friends I’ve made through this sport, but it was such a hard fought game.”
Seneca High School’s field hockey team wasn’t in Bordentown, capturing the state championship that eluded them in the last three straight years. COVID-19 robbed them of that opportunity — and everyone else in the state, too — when the state playoffs were called off before the 2020 season even began.
On Friday, they were behind Haddonfield’s stadium, near the parking lot with Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” fittingly blaring over the speakers. The celebratory atmosphere sure made it feel like the Golden Eagles had won a state championship.
In a game pitting two teams that had played in a combined six state championship games the previous three years, Seneca knocked off host Haddonfield in a dominating 4-0 decision to capture the team’s fourth straight sectional title.
The senior quartet of Lawlor, Cassidy Strittmatter, Olivia Quagliero and Devon Webb — posing, kissing, and hamming it up with those four trophies afterward — entered a program that hadn’t ever won a championship and are leaving it 4-for-4 in sectional title games.
“They were the ones that (made it happen), they learned from the ones ahead of them and it speaks volumes of the program, the coaches that have been through this program to start it,” Seneca coach Kristina Foster said. “I think for the seniors to be able to finish this year with yet another trophy, it means the world to them, it means the world to us, and it’s going to set a precedent for the ones after them.”
“It means so much to all of us,” said Quagliero. “Our freshman year the seniors were such good role models for us. We kind of moved off of that. We knew from the start we could start a legacy. (This year’s) seniors, from freshman year until now, we knew we had the ability to win. And we showed the younger girls they can do it, too, to keep it going.”
It’s been quite a run for a school that only opened its doors (in 2003) the year many in the senior class were born. The legacy the Class of 2021 is leaving has catapulted Seneca into the upper echelon of South Jersey field hockey, joining the likes of perennial powers like Haddonfield, Shawnee, Moorestown and Eastern.
Fittingly, Friday’s Southwest B Group Championship began with one of Seneca’s seniors striking early.
Strittmatter sunk a penalty stroke in the game’s opening minutes to put the Golden Eagles up 1-0. Before the end of the first half, Strittmatter’s younger sister, Tess, set up a goal from Lawlor that doubled Seneca’s advantage.
The second half was more of the same. Junior Sophia Abate found the back of the net twice within a 10-minute span and the Golden Eagles stalwart defense stood tall with each Bulldawgs penalty corner.
Seneca, which finished its season on a 10-game winning streak, didn’t allow a goal in the postseason, outscoring the opposition 13-0 in three games.
“Haddonfield is a great opponent,” Cassidy Strittmatter, who will play next year at James Madison University, said of a Bulldawgs program that had appeared in five straight state championships (including two wins) in the last five seasons.
“We just showed up today and worked super hard,” Strittmatter continued. “We played like it was our state championship. It was our sectional championship, but it means just as much to us because we were given the opportunity to play our last game together, we knew it, everyone else knew it. We just put everything out there for each other.”
A year earlier, Seneca had also cruised to a sectional title (outscoring three opponents 18-0) before knocking off West Deptford in the state semifinals and then roaring back from a 3-0 deficit before falling to North Jersey power West Essex in the Group 2 state championship game. It was Seneca’s third straight loss in a state championship game.
This year’s Seneca team was built to get over that hump. Instead, they got over the disappointment of not competing for a state title quickly and focused instead on what they could accomplish.
The only blemishes on Seneca’s schedule this year? A one-goal loss to Shawnee, a tie to Camden Catholic (one of the top five teams in the state), and a 4-2 loss to national power Eastern. The latter was the closest anyone played to Eastern in 2020.
If Seneca’s arrival as a force to be reckoned with in South Jersey wasn’t loud enough in the last four seasons, they changed that on Friday in Haddonfield with a workmanlike, complete effort from the first whistle to the last.
“It felt like a state championship,” said Quagliero, who will continue her field hockey career at West Chester University. “Going in, we said we’re going to play this like it is a state championship. And I feel like we did. We played like it was going to be the last game we’d ever play.”
“We were always saying this year is our year,” said Webb, who will play lacrosse at Kennesaw State. “And through all of the (COVID) changes, we’ve all accepted it and moved forward. We knew this was the goal, to win sectionals. And it feels good to finally get it. It’s bittersweet because we can’t do it again, but I’m so glad we ended on this.”