Undefeated Shore Regional Shining Once Again
By Casey Krish
WEST LONG BRANCH – When in discussions of the great and storied programs in the Shore Conference field hockey ranks, one might be quick to list Shore Regional near the upper rungs of the ladder.
The current Blue Devils roster is on a mission to take their success one step further after bowing out in the first round of the Tournament of Champions against fourth-seeded in West Essex.
Under the leadership of sixth-year head coach Kelly Koenig, Shore Regional has won its first eight contests.
“Coming into the season, we could feel the sense of excitement with these girls and their eagerness to compete,” Koenig said. “Throughout the preseason, we thought about what we wanted to accomplish this year, as well as see how each member could contribute.”
Coming off a trip to the TOC in 2018, there is little surprise across the state in regards to a hot start by the Blue Devils. What might cause opposing coaches to lose sleep at night is the way they’ve conducted business. In just eight matches, Shore is outscoring its opponents, 45-1, and has won four games by eight goals or more.
“The passion this team has for each other is palpable,” Koenig added. “They’re honest and open with each other and demand more when they know their teammates can give it. These girls are tenacious and hold each other accountable.”
Their win on opening night over Rumson-Fair Haven set the tone for the start of the long trek back to the TOC.
“Winning our home opener set a tone for us. It reaffirmed to us that we can play and win against some of the best teams in the state,” Koenig said.
The mantra that “defense wins championships” rings true to different masses. This Shore Regional squad certainly has a backfield that can supply championship caliber play.
Shannon Scesa, Lily Santi and Rachel Dwyer are three seniors who have made an impact on the program for the last three seasons, a stretch during which Shore has amassed a 49-7 record. Senior Quinn Harmon and sophomore Maryn Zenkert join a veteran backfield that has conceded just one score.
“Our defensive unit becomes more dependable every single game,” Koenig said. “Their recovery runs are quick, and they all have the mindset to ‘be first to the ball.’”
As great a backline that takes the field in West Long Branch on a daily basis, Dwyer has been the final checkpoint to cross for opposing attackers. This year, being granted entry is not something she considers an option.
“Rachel has consistently grown her game the past three seasons, and she is trusted by her teammates both on and off the field,” Koenig said of her senior keeper. “She’s a strong communicator in the backfield and is always organizing the defense. “She’s intelligent and mature and her team responds to her leadership.”
The collection of talented defensive members bodes well for the Blue Devils and their success; not only in the early stages of 2019, but in their decorated history as well. While opposing players are focusing on breaking down the wall that blockades them from their opponent’s net, they must also keep wary the quick counterstriking ability of Shore’s forward and midfield. The quick and swift poise of the attacking crew has helped Shore score a staggering 5.62 goals per contest.
Santi, a third-year player, is leading the way with 23 of the first 45 goals of the season, including four efforts in which she tallied at least three scores. Being a center back, having her be a threat to find the back of the net is an advantage any team would dream of having.
“Lily is such a tough player to defend. She has a wide-ranging set of skills,” Koenig said of her club’s leading scorer. “Her strong side shot is excellent and if you force her to a low angle she has a solid verse chip.”
Despite the scoring ability Santi naturally possesses, her coach was quick to mention her ability to spark her team when needed.
“She is a true competitor. She is always getting the best out of her teammates and challenging them to play at their highest level.”
While Santi’s name litters the scorecard on most nights, opponents heading into the postseason could start to closely defend a one-person team. Luckily for the Blue Devils, their depth on offense is one of the best in the Shore Conference. The Devils’ collective threat is evenly spread across a roster that lists 12 girls who have found their name on the scoresheet so far in 2019.
Carly Cole and Taylor Cannon have provided a punch on the scorecard, each finding the back of the net four times to date. Maggie McCrae and Peyton Shaw have eached scored three times while Isabella Saponaro and Ryan Malfa have each chipped in a pair.
Cole, who is only a junior, also has 14 assists on the young season, bringing her point total up to 18.
While the season is far from over, the talks of Shore Regional once again being a team to watch in both the upcoming Shore Conference Tournament and NJSIAA state tournament are already surfacing. While everyone involved with the program certainly enjoys the respect and attention, they know it is all business once the whistle blows, and the Blue Devils won’t let themselves think too far ahead.
“Of course we have long-term goals that we are aiming to achieve this season, but we won’t allow ourselves to look too far ahead.” Koenig said. “We have some big games coming up (before the start of postseason play) and it is important for us to stay in the moment and take it game by game.”
Shore Regional takes no opponent for granted, and with the way they push each other, they want themselves to be their fiercest opponents between the lines. Shore is a program that won’t allow its girls to leave anything out on the field and this year’s club certainly embodies that mindset.