Southern Field Hockey Eyeing Redemption in Shore Conference Tournament By John Sorce

MANAHAWKIN – It was a record breaking season in 2017 for the Southern Regional field hockey team. The team won 21 games and advanced to the Shore Conference Tournament finals for just the second time in school history, where they were shut out by top-seeded Rumson.

This season, the Rams haven’t missed a beat, sitting atop A South with an 11-1 record, with their only blemish coming in a 1-0 contest against division rival Jackson Memorial. They are ranked No. 13 in the state by NJ.com.

“Playing in A South is great,” said fifth-year head coach Jenna Lombardo. “It prepares us for the Shore Conference Tournament, which is also why we try to get a couple of Monmouth County teams as well like Wall and we were supposed to play Shore, but that got rained out and there’s not room to reschedule for both of us so it doesn’t work out, unfortunately. We’ve had some great games and being first in A South, our immediate goal is to win that and then move onto the bigger tournaments.”

Leading the way for Southern on offense is junior Maitland Demand, who leads the team in both goals scored (23) and assists (11).

“She’s stepped up as a leader on and off the field and she’s a great goal scorer,” Lombardo said. “She’s had six hat tricks through 12 games to this point, which is pretty impressive.”

Senior center-back Emma Wilhelm has also stepped up big this season for the Rams.

“Emma is unbelievable, she’s the most consistent person in the backfield,” Lombardo said. “I never question whether she is going to come up with a defensive stop and other coaches refer to her as the backbone of our team.”

Junior goaltender Lauren Bakker has recorded eight shutouts so far this season, and Lombardo has been impressed with what she has seen from her goalie, who took an unconventional route to playing field hockey.

“She’s stepped up huge,” Lombardo said. “She actually played football her freshman year and now she’s with us, so it’s great having her with our program. She’s one of the hardest working goalies I’ve seen, and all she wants to do is get better and be there for her team. I would say goalie is the toughest job on the field for sure the most pressure, but she’s made a lot of key saves that have been a huge part of our success.”

Other key members of the Rams this season are junior center-forward Erika Barbera, sophomore left-wing Emily Raylman, senior left-mid Alexis Maul, and junior defender Priscilla Nicolini.

“It’s just been a lot of great teamwork that the girls have been putting together to be successful,” Lombardo said. “We have a lot of unselfish girls that want to win for each other and win for their team. The group of upperclassmen have been awesome and I really couldn’t ask for more. They’ve grown so much from when they were freshmen and sophomores on JV.”

While Southern is talented enough to make a run into states, they are in the same bracket (South, Group 4) as Eastern, who is the top team in the state. As a No. 4 seed last year, Southern made it to the semifinals of the South, Group 4 Tournament, and were shut out by Eastern, 8-0. Eastern was the top-seed in the TOC last year and advanced all the way to the finals. Being a realist, Lombardo knows their best chance to win a championship is in the Shore Conference Tournament, and that is their primary goal.

“Our primary goal is to get back to the Shore Conference Tournament final and have another chance to win that game,” Lombardo said. “We know in the state tournament, it is what it is, but we see Eastern and being a realist, that’s not achievable.”

Lombardo truly loves being around her team and going to practice every day. Having a team that is one of the top teams in the state surely helps, and that chemistry is going to be important if they are going to have a chance at redemption.

“Every day with these girls is fun,” Lombardo said. “They are the hardest working girls and they are so unselfish. They are so much fun to be around and I truly enjoy going to practice every day, which isn’t something every coach can say. I am definitely lucky to be around these girls.”

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