Three-peat: Haddonfield brings home yet another SJ Group II title

Junior heavy squad overcomes early-season struggles to take the sectional title in 2-0 win over Cinnaminson

MATTHEW SHINKLE/South Jersey Sports Weekly: The Haddonfield girls soccer team clinched its third consecutive sectional title Friday, Nov. 12 with a 2-0 win over Cinnaminson. The Bulldawgs finished the season with a 14-8-1 record.

After a difficult and unique regular soccer season that resulted in a 10-7-1 record,  Haddonfield junior Allison Tighe relied on text messages from her father to find out how her team’s first two postseason games went. 

Tighe was training in South America with Peru’s U17 National Team during the Bulldawgs’ first two playoff games. She anxiously awaited news, sometimes by the minute, in hopes that Tighe would be able to make good on a promise she made to her teammates before leaving the country.

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“It was a cool opportunity to get to be a part of,” Tighe said. “But of course missing those two games that I did, with them ending up being the first two rounds of the playoffs, were really difficult. 

“I was so proud of them for being able to pull them off, because I told them before I left to go out there and kick butt,” she added. “And that I hoped when I got back that I could join them and get the three-peat that we wanted since the beginning of the year.” 

Tighe kept her promise upon returning to Haddonfield, scoring a goal in both the semifinal and championship games to clinch the South Jersey Group II title for the Bulldawgs. The team also won the championship in 2019 and the regional championship in 2020, but could go no farther because of COVID.

Haddonfield entered the season with a junior-heavy squad, according to coach Lori Quintavalle, resulting in a fair amount of challenges early on, including a 1-3 record to start the year.

“Coming into this season, we knew that in losing our three senior captains from the previous season, who were all positioned at one of the three lines on the field, we knew we had to fill the shoes of those tremendous athletes and leaders right off the bat.” Quintavalle said.

“We had a lot of adversity in the beginning of the season in terms of finding ourselves, and we just had to make sure to work on that every single day and stay positive in what we were doing,” she added.

With a large and talented junior class, many of whom were getting their first taste of varsity experience, Quintavalle had to rely plenty on the team’s few seniors to not only lead by example but lend a helping hand on and off the field.

Seniors Juliet Walls and Sara Smith provided leadership skills over the course of the season, albeit from different spots. Walls scored five goals and registered six assists over the course of the season on the pitch. Smith suffered an injury before the start of the season that prevented her from playing until the end of the playoffs, but she was vocal on the sidelines.

Walls knew the loss of Smith — expected to be a key component of the Haddonfield starting 11 — would be tough to overcome early on. She acknowledged there was a large hole to fill, but the team’s ability to stay mentally resilient helped them stay successful.

“Our expectations were definitely still high coming into the season,” Walls said. “We knew that we wanted the three-peat. Having that leadership role is important no matter what, and I was excited to be a leader with her on the field, but after she (Smith) got hurt, we had to adapt and become leaders in different ways at that time. And fortunately we have such great underclassmen and teammates in general that were able to help fill in where we needed it.”

Looking back, Tighe said this year naturally felt different than her first championship seasons with Haddonfield, given that she’s older and had more of a leadership role. But this year also showed how early-season struggles can be overcome, she said.

“Coming in this season a little older, I was looking forward to showing the younger girls and the rest of the team what it’s like to be a part of this program and how it’s done,” Tighe said. 

“This season definitely showed me that everything happens for a reason,” she added. “The beginning of the year wasn’t how we wanted it to be, but being able to turn it around the way that we did really showed our character.”

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