Entering the 2021 season, fourth-year head coach Kristina Foster was more than aware that a large part of the success for the girls field hockey team this season would hinge on the resilience of the group’s younger players as they were led by more experienced veterans.
In part, that’s what makes this year’s sectional championship for the Golden Eagles stand out when compared with others in recent years. Seneca won back-to-back titles from 2017 to 2019 before also winning the regional championship last year, a game established in lieu of a sectional championship game because of COVID.
“It was fairly easy to get back into our normal routine of a full preseason and full schedule of games,” Foster said. “We had tremendous leadership with our seniors this year, and they knew that they were in a tough position at the start, with us being very inexperienced at the varsity level within our program for the first time in a handful of years.”
The task came with significant challenges, since building the team chemistry needed to be a championship caliber team takes plenty of time and effort. Understanding the potential problem inexperience can bring to a team, senior Sophia Abate felt the initial skepticism of a successful season on her shoulders at the start of the season.
“At the beginning of the season, I think our team was kind of doubtful to be honest,” she said. “No one thought we would make it as far as we did with us having lost the seniors that we did across all parts of the field last year.
“I expected us to do well,” Abate added, “but definitely not as great as we ended up doing.”
For senior Tess Strittmatter, the feelings were mutual at first. But as the team continued to progress during the regular season — which included the program’s first win against Shawnee — Strittmatter became increasingly confident of the team’s ability, as did Abate.
“It was definitely a new team for the most part,” Strittmatter said. “We didn’t have that full season last year so we didn’t have the same history with the team like we have in recent years, but as we kept going I grew more and more confident in our team’s capabilities.”
For a team that actively prepares for the postseason over the course of its schedule each year, the seniors and upperclassmen did an exceptional job preparing the varsity squad for games beyond the regular season, Foster said.
Typically seeded higher in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group II bracket, Seneca entered the tournament seeded eighth after finishing the regular season with a 12-6-1 record. The placement in the bracket was initially disappointing, Foster said, but the pathway to another sectional title allowed the Golden Eagles to show South Jersey that Seneca was still a team to be reckoned with.
“I think that we looked at it as an opportunity to take the postseason in stride … We don’t look at any team’s seeding or record as anything difficult for us,” Foster said. “It was a chance for us to be an underdog for once and that felt like it took a little bit of pressure off of us in a sense.”
Despite some growing pains early in the season, both Abate and Strittmatter said the team was able to come together at just the right time with the season winding down, setting them up for a strong postseason run that culminated in yet another sectional title.
While Abate and Strittmatter will head to Columbia University and Lehigh University, respectively, Foster believes this year’s youth movement will pave the way for a strong two to three years to come in the program.
“Their experience this year is going to be vital for the next two to three years [of our team] … “ Foster said. “They got to experience something that not many underclassmen get to experience, and honestly, we’re going to have to work just as hard, if not harder, to get back to where we just were. But these underclassmen are hungry and I know they want to win more moving forward.”