For about the past three weeks, the 2021 field hockey season has been a welcome return to a semi-normal state for many at Clearview Regional High School, after what’s certainly been a challenging past two years for both players and the program as a whole.
After securing their program’s first sectional championship in 2017 — and before nabbing their second sectional championship and their first state title in 2019 — the Pioneers were unable to defend either in 2020. That was due to the COVID cancellation of what would have been the sectional final against Moorestown, a pause that also affected state title matches in all fall sports.
Then a September tornado ravaged parts of Mullica Hill, leaving some players on the team and throughout the school displaced or adversely affected.
Having mentally gone through a lot over the past 24 months, the team, according to head coach Brittany Ewan, started the season a little flat, not scoring as much as she expected and not closing out games Ewan thought should have been victories.
“We were excited to have some kind of normalcy in regard to COVID,” Ewan said. “But gearing back up for this season in a more traditional sense was very much needed, and after a kind of slow start to the season for us, we continued to work through it and really focused on the mental aspect of it, all for us to help get back on track.
“A lot of these girls train year round, so their stick skills are there and their level of play is top notch,” the coach added. “It was just a matter of keeping us mentally in the game and understanding what the overall goal was.”
Looking back, Ewan said the regular season didn’t go the way she believes it could have had her team played its best.
“The regular season didn’t necessarily go how we wanted it to go and it was frustrating on a lot of levels,” she said. “Because in the majority of our losses, we outplayed and outshot our opponents, so we had more scoring opportunities, but just couldn’t capitalize.”
One mid-season change the coaching staff made during the middle of the regular season was to move junior Darian DeLeo, an incredibly versatile player according to her coach, to center forward even though she began the year in another position. DeLeo has been one of the team’s leading goal scorers in each of her three years with the Pioneers, with this season her first on a leading team.
The switch back to a position DeLeo originally played in her freshman year was an effort to help the team’s offense be more efficient.
“I was more so focused at the beginning of the season on getting the ball to the forwards and creating chances for them, but then after the position switch about halfway through the season, where I was more of the goal scorer, I just felt a spark for me personally and us as a team,” DeLeo said.
“We didn’t have great chemistry at the beginning of the season,” she added, “but in the last few weeks, we’ve all felt so much more connected out there.”
Another key component in the Clearview offense this season has been senior Sam Johnson, who returned to the field after a lost season last year due to a broken elbow. The senior is second on the team in goals, just behind DeLeo, and worked tirelessly in the offseason to return for her final year. She has seen the play and intensity increase in recent weeks.
“Since it was my senior season, I really wanted to make sure I came back at full strength,” Johnson said. “As a team, our mindset wasn’t really in the right spot the first couple weeks, but we’ve really turned that around as of late. We’ve really focused on team chemistry and camaraderie … We changed our mindset, and it’s been helping us in games.”