The COVID-19 pandemic giveth, and it also taketh away.
While the Moorestown High School boys soccer team was celebrating a championship on the weekend before Thanksgiving, the girls field hockey team was at home through no fault of its own.
On Nov. 21, the Quaker footballers capped a stingy run in the South West D, Group 3 bracket, posting a 2-0 victory over Mainland Regional High School for the school’s first sectional title since 2012. Scores by Cade McGrath and Christian Trzeciak, along with five stops from Wyatt Atkinson, sealed the deal.
The victory capped a tense few days, when it was unknown if either title match would be played.
Moorestown’s administrative decision to embrace all-virtual education due to a sudden rise in COVID-19 cases meant, originally, that all extracurricular sports were cancelled. As a result, both the boys soccer and girls field hockey title games would not proceed.
After further discussions, that ruling changed, meaning both title hopefuls would be allowed to play, because it was safe to do so, per county guidelines and contact tracing. Ultimately, the superintendents of both Moorestown and Mainland came to an agreement, but Clearview, the girls’ opponent, declined.
“It was the craziest 24 hours I’ve ever experienced. The boys were on a mission since they lost in the quarterfinals against Ocean City, and they weren’t going to let that happen again,” said boys soccer coach Michael Randall.
“It was such a shame for them, because the girls work so hard at every practice and in every game for Ali (Collins, Moorestown field hockey coach) and for the school. I felt really badly they were denied a chance to finish their season.”
The Quakers were ranked second to open the South West D, Group 3 bracket on Nov. 14, and tore through Absegami, 5-0. They received a bye through the next round, as Gloucester Tech forfeited due to a member of its team having come in contact with someone presumed to have tested positive for COVID.
Then, a nail-biter against Northern Burlington that ended as a scoreless draw was decided 3-1 on penalty kicks.
“You know, with our guys it comes down to the goalkeeping, and Wyatt is a real aggressive goalie,” Randall said. “It starts on the back end. I’ve always been told defense wins championships, and the back really solidified that through the whole tournament.”
Collins was clearly emotional in broaching the subject during a conversation 48 hours after her team’s contest was scuttled.
“Both teams received approvals, but the only difference was that boys soccer opponents signed off on playing, and the girls field hockey opponent didn’t,” she related. “My official statement and personal feeling, along with the girls, is that we are thrilled for the boys.”
Collins added that her disappointment has “zero connection” to how she felt about the boys winning.
“I support the team and their athletes. (My frustration and emotion) comes from the bad timing of the decisions. We were one game away from a championship: We had 14 great games,” she noted.
Following a bye, the top-ranked Quaker hockey squad opened the Southwest Region C bracket on Nov. 16 with an 8-0 thrashing of Timber Creek, then advanced to the final two days later thanks to an identical 8-0 rout of Gloucester Tech.
The team’s would-be opponent, second-seeded Clearview Regional High School, won its two playoff games by a combined 13-0 score, including an 11-0 rout over Northern Burlington. But a day before the championship contest was to take place on Nov. 21, Clearview’s superintendent, John Horchak III, decided against letting his school compete.
“I was tremendously disappointed we didn’t play,” Collins recalled. “The girls were obviously also disappointed. They advocated for themselves, the administration listened, but it was beyond our control. We were ready to play and it was taken away from us.”
Randall sympathized. “We would have been there for them,” he stated. “I didn’t even know the girls’ game was cancelled until the morning before. Every single team is there for, and competes for, every other team. We’re proud of what they accomplished.”