It’s been a special season thus far for the Bishop Eustace girls soccer team.
After a 4-6-1 season last year — after which the team graduated a large group of its members and saw the departure of its head coach — expectations for the 2021 season may have seemed bleak at first.
But given how the team has played over the last two weeks, it’s been tough to bet against anyone who has Crusaders written on her jersey.
With a 3-0 victory over Eastern on Oct. 27, Bishop Eustace punched its ticket to the championship game of the South Jersey Coaches Association (SJCA) Tournament, seeking their first title since the program’s only Coaches Cup championship victory in 2006. The victory over Eastern, ranked No. 7 in the state by NJ.com, was the first time a team had scored at least three goals against the Vikings in five years.
The win caps off what’s been a sort of revenge tour in the tournament for the Crusaders, having taken down Cherokee and Shawnee in the first two rounds after losing to both during the regular season. The team defeated Eastern just one week after a 2-2 tie just before the start of the SJCA Tournament.
First year head coach Patrick Hitschler was hired in the spring, after originally seeking to revive the wrestling program at Bishop Eustace. The Crusaders’ recent play is something he said looked possible early on this season as he got to know the team, but it isn’t necessarily something he expected to come together as it has.
“I always knew we could be competitive … In summer league, I felt like we were kind of even with everybody, so I thought we’d have a lot of close games this season,” Hitschler said.
“But it wasn’t until about a week before the tournament started where our offense started to really click against these better teams,” he added. “We were sticking with teams and the girls have just been able to keep pulling it out.”
Sophomore Allie Serlenga has played a big role in running the offense and keeping the Crusaders ahead in games this season, having scored 17 goals to go along with six assists through the team’s first 18 games. The team enters the Coaches Cup final at 13-3-2.
Coming off a freshman season in which she was second on the team in scoring, Serlenga came into this year ready to make a statement.
“I felt like coming into this season that everyone doubted us … Our coach quit from last year and we graduated a lot of seniors, so I felt like a lot of people thought we weren’t going to be very good,” Serlenga said. “I definitely wanted to prove those people wrong.”
In net for Bishop Eustace is senior Ava Rocabaldo, a four year varsity player who split time her freshman year with another goalie before getting the starting job. Playing in net has for the most part come pretty naturally for Rocabaldo at Bishop Eustace. She acknowledged that one specific part of her game has matured and that she has grown more comfortable in a leadership role over time.
“Communicating to your defense in front of you is such a big part of being a goalie, and as a sophomore, I was definitely a little shy to do stuff like that with kind of telling upperclassmen what to do,” Rocabaldo said.
“I’ve realized its importance as I’ve gotten older though. so I’ve definitely improved a lot in that area,” she added.