U14 NIT Team @ Spooky Nook
Shannon McNally (GK on loan)
Arriving at the Nook on Friday afternoon and seeing a mass of cars that made me think that we were at the center of a Nascar meet (I've never attended Nascar so I can only go on rumor), I considered that I may have to park in the way, way back, somewhere near in the civilized state of New Jersey. But taking one hugely optimistic spin of parking lot that didn't take in a far away Amish homestead I found that mythical thing that many have heard of but only a select few have ever seen, never mind experienced - a parking spot that is actually close to the entrance of the Spooky Nook. It was at that miraculous moment that I knew signified that this was going to be an epic tournament for the #dreamteam.
There were definitely a few nerves as the girls lined up for the first ever USAFH NIT appearance for the Mid-Jersey Knights. Not from the girls, mind you, just me. The girls were ready and knew that their uniform was by far the best at the whole tournament. The looks were envious from our PA Elite opponents.
The first game is always a tricky one as the team takes time to figure out the opponents, the court and ourselves. We fought and played some great hockey, but goals in the first half meant we always had an uphill battle to get something from the game, despite the best efforts in Shannon in goal we lost our first game.
The next game was one we should have won. We just needed a little more composure in front of goal, much, much better service at the Nook's hotel restaurant and possibly some more sleep. Who schedules a U14 game for 10:15 PM?? It took us a while to wake up. Early goals meant SJ Edge were 2-0 up inside the first few minutes with their first two attacks. It was incredibly frustrating but we came back hard and played some quality hockey. Meadow and Julia started to show their real ability with wonderful eliminations, while Cassidy started to make right back her position with timely interceptions. We battled but despite countless chances from APCs and baseline attacks we just couldn't find the breakthrough our class and quality deserved. We were by far the better team. And by far the classier team. Finally, with just seconds remaining, a superb attack from Adeline and Meadow created a chance and there was Cassidy, appearing from nowhere like a scampering squirrel, dive in at the back post score MJK first ever goal at the NIT. I went nuts (see what I did there).
The result of the first day was two losses. Frustrating, yes, but we were starting play with an intellect and identity that will live long past February 2016.
Saturday was a relaxed lunchtime start for those that didn't have to buy nursery furniture from the Pottery Barn outlet. Those few extra hours in bed for the team were clearly worth it as we blew our Hymax opponents away. Perhaps it was Meredith's presence that did it, but Claire McGowan was on fire. A fantastic all-round performance was capped by her hat-trick of excellent goals in a 5-1 win (see attached video). It was a game where we found the goals we had been lacking from our forwards. Superb attacking from Karmyn, Adeline, Claire and Alexis created countless chances and corners. And it was from one of these corners that Alexis scored a great goal that rifled into the bottom corner. In the stands above a couple of mothers were asked to tone down their celebration a little (not really). I think it was Julia that got the other goal from a brilliant penalty corner. Overall our performance was superb. We were a team that was working for each other. Finding spaces, creating chances, defending with aggression - we had it all.
The second game of the day was against an FSC team that would go on to win our pool. Hockey-wise we completely outplayed them. We were excellent. Really excellent. Julia was outstanding and Meadow continually found spaces in the middle. Cassidy was a rock, while the forward group of Adeline, Claire, Alexis and Kamryn gave their far more experienced opponents no room to play. Shannon played very well in goal when called upon. Once again Claire scored an outstanding penalty corner goal from a pass from Julia and with no time left a certain repeat corner off a shot by Meadow was denied by an umpire who had the rules explained to him after the game. It was a fantastic performance and showed how far we had come in 24 hours. It was just as shame our play didn't get the result we deserved.
The final day was just a single game and with just one sub having lost the irreplaceable Julia we knew it would be a challenge. As it happened, our hockey was awesome. Meadow was at left back and continually found space to hit Adeline and Alexis who made great leads back to the ball, Cassidy continued to play with a maturity beyond her experience at right back, while in the middle Claire showed a couple of pieces of exquisite skill that opened up Rampage FHC like a knight's sword through butter that had been left out on the turf during the July 10-13 2016 Rutgers Field Hockey Camp... Kamryn was working incredibly hard and on another day could have had a couple of goals, while Adeline was creating countless chances on the right baseline. Alexis nearly fired us ahead. Instead it was Meadow that put away a great goal to make it 1-0. Back came Rampage though to take advantage of the first mistake we made. Back we came again and Meadow just failed to put away a penalty stroke. We fought and fought and then fought some more, while all the time playing some hockey that would not have looked out of place at the Olympics; if they had indoor hockey. Final result 1-1.
We would finish fourth in our pool. When we consider how little experience we have as a team and that this is first time MJK had ever been to an NIT, we were incredible. A huge thank you to the parents who made amazing shirts for the team and looked after us all over the weekend.
Parents of these U14 players and every member of the club should be proud of not only their performance but also what every player has done so far this year, in our first ever months as a program. It has been a pleasure for myself, for Meredith, Roland, Maddy and Lauren to be a part of. If this team is the is the future, the future for MJK is very, very bright indeed.
Joey and Meredith
U19 Black @ WC Eagles
Emylenn Sneary GK
The first game against Philly HC was completely out of control positionally. Honestly, nothing like the hockey we want to be playing. Yes, we want to work hard, but we also want to play with thought and control in our movement. To be observant and to understand what is happening is crucial. Teasing aside, it was a good idea from the excellent Maura to try and play the ball first time down the left board but she mis-timed it Meredith temporarily wore the ball as a hat. Play was stopped to make sure that she was still alive while I congratulated everyone on making sure I was safe because that's what's important (I'm joking!!!). Meredith will be fine.
The next game was a big step up in much more like the hockey we want to be playing. At the back, Lyndsay showed what she can really do alongside Kailey, and Maura continued to work incredibly hard. In the midfield Anna brought some real composure while ahead of them, Taryn, Lauren, Emily and Lauren M. gave us far better structure. If the forwards aren't disciplined positionally it makes everything very difficult. It was undoubtedly a better performance but there were still strides to be made.
Those huge steps came in the next game - but it also showed the value of penalty corner execution. We defended valiantly against WC Eagles and through Kailey we had some breakaway opportunities. The opponents only scored one goal in open play, but really hurt us with two flickers on the APCs. Emelynn did excellently to thwart many of their attempts but could do little as they found each of the four corners of the goal. Away from the result though, the desire and refusal to give in was superb, with some great low defending, especially from Hannah and Maggie.
Into the final game and the pressure was on. Not to get a result but to give a real performance. The team didn't disappoint. Lauren and Lauren (I won't do that on that again) on the forward line worked hard for the team and each other, as did Taryn, Kailey and Emily. Maura continued her impressive growth through the day and created a number of chances. On a different day she could have had a few goals. Lyndsay and Anna, as well as Hannah and Maggie, continued to control the play behind the forwards and can be proud of their progression.
As a team they all answered the call to improve. It's important that we don't shy away when we don't execute instructions and don't play the way we can - as happened in the first game. No one expects us to be perfect as this is impossible in sport, but we do expect you to grow, to watch and to learn. And this is exactly what the Black team did.
Awesome work all round.
U19 Scarlet @ WC Eagles
Xcalibur. WC Eagles. Liverpool FC. They do, of course, have some very good players and some of their teams are very good - but not all of them. And in the case of Liverpool (eh, Erdne?) none of them. Do not be phased by a name. Play the team that you face on that day and do not be intimidated.
Playing Xcalibur we spent the first 10 minutes trying to figure out why weren't losing - it wasn't until the second 10 minutes that we finally figured out that we should have been winning because we were better. Lizzee, Emily, Aryana and Amanda were dealing with everything they had offensively, and it was only a little trepidation that meant we weren't ahead. New positional experiences for Sydney, who spent time on the forward line supporting Sarah, took a little getting used to, but they were both excellent, along with Talia and Kelly and Aryana who rotated through the midfield. Sydney had a few looks at goal but couldn't quite squeeze one in. A draw was a fair result as it was very much a game of two halves. A game, I might add, in which Ally Parrett had a superbly composed game in goal.
You know how I said that Xcalibur had some very good players? Well they were all in the second game. A young Xcalibur team, who still had obviously played together for a long time, moved the ball fantastically well and we didn't do enough to pick up the spaces. Tessa did very, very well in goal but we couldn't create enough to stem the tide. It was a lesson to our inexperienced team.
The third game made the coaches really proud. WC Eagles were solid and put high pressure on us that Lizzee, Amanda and Emily did very well to try and relieve and it meant they couldn't find a way through in open play. With Sarah, Kelly, Talia and Sydney we were always a threat going forward but the game ended with a tight loss.
I have no idea of the result of the final game but it was undoubtedly our best performance. An impressive game from Aryana and a great goal by Talia, as well as a missed penalty stroke (we will work on those), showed that we can compete with anybody. And we will - no matter the name.
U14 "The Dream Team"
Despite some terrible attempts at drawing (see social media) and even though we were missing Alexis, our U14 team continues to impress with their team-work, work-rate and all-round awesomeness.
The first game was frustrating as, despite countless chances, we couldn't put the ball in the back of the net. We definitely need to do some work on our APCs...
The second was better and though we didn't score as many as we could, a great penalty corner from Julia secured the win. That goal was sandwiched between some great play and careful structure, with Kamryn and Chris and Cassidy on the forward line holding the ball up well, as well as Adeline who also did some great defensive work at right back.
The third game showed what the Knights can really do. Meadow was running the show from the middle and scored a great goal with poise and control. At left back Julia was letting nothing through her and was really dictating the play. Chris' ability to roll off the left board was frustrating the opponents and bringing the crowd to their feet (they were already standing).
In goal Hannah was wondering why she had bothered to come all the way from Virginia - she hadn't anything to do in three games except one great double save. That would all change in the final game against Jersey Elite...
No one is quite sure how the girls from Jersey Elite are U14 as they are approximately a million times the size of our young Knights but this David v Goliath match-up taught us some valuable lessons. One of those lessons we already knew - Hannah is awesome. Countless times she came up with massive saves. She was supported by Claire, Adeline and Meadow defensively. Nevertheless, the U14s were probably a little intimidated by size and fell 4-0 behind. It wasn't until they realized that it is all about understanding and connections not the size of the opponent that they started to show what they could do.
This came most of all in the greatest goal of the weekend (and possibly all time) from Kamryn. A DPC breakdown and Meadow fired the ball off the board (the only time you're allowed to make a blind pass). Kamryn was waiting in the circle and despite the best attempts of the recovering defender she slipped it past the GK with nonchalant aplomb. IT WAS AWESOME. Kamryn needs to work on her celebration though. #toochilledout.
The Knights didn't stop there either as Claire scored another on an APC. It ended with our first loss (4-2) but it taught us valuable things. One, don't lose before you step on the court, but most of all, if you play with brains you can compete with anyone and that hockey is about skill and team-work. Keep working on all those things and YOU WILL get better as a team and as an individual.
And that's what being a Knight is all about.
A great day for all!
Kayla Silva GK
The black team went into the tournament knowing that they needed to perform in preparation for the NIT in a few weeks time.
The focus was work-rate and making sure we don't leave too many space in transition. The first game took as a while to get going and despite some excellent goal keeping from Kayla, a few failures to adhere to the principle of working hard meant we left a few too many spaces for the counter-attack. If nothing else it showed the team that there is no time to "ease" into the pace of the game.
The second game was a big step up and was much more like the team performance that was expected. Delaware Shore couldn't handle the movement of Talia, Emily, Adeline and Claire up front and they were able to create numerous chances. At the back, Amanda and Julia continued to build upon their understanding and broke forward to put our southern opponents under pressure that they had no idea how to deal with. In the middle, Meadow's great small skills and awareness kept creating chances for those around her - though she still needs to shoot more!
The third game I have no idea what the score was but Talia scored a lot of goals. Which was awesome.
The final game, after the u14 players raced back from a game immediately before and undertaken a Superman-style uniform change, was another display of what the team is capable of. Some excellent baseline entries meant that Adeline got herself in great positions, as did Claire and Meadow. Talia continued her scoring streak, but even more impressively she set-up an excellent goal for Emily.
This team really is able to build from the back and Julia and Amanda did fantastically well to find spaces. When the opposition does manage to break forward Kayla is always in position. This tournament she had a great calmness about her that helped all her team.
It was an excellent day for Black but it can be improved upon and we will be even stronger with Aryana with us at NIT...
Gianna Duddy GK
Like all teams this week, U16 Scarlet was hit hard by illness (you all need to eat more fruits and vegetables) but that didn't stop them from putting in an awesome performance with some seriously rapid development as a group and individually.
Gianna, Maggie, Hannah and Emma were rocks defensively and gave a really solid foundation for the rest of the team to build on. The first game was tight and resulted in a narrow loss to Central Penn but all that did was make the team more determined to put in a great performance in following matches.
Against Souderton and PA Elite the team was excellent, especially Caryn in midfield, who produced a masterclass in positional awareness. It meant that ahead of her Haley, Lianna and Cassidy (playing with the U16s at very short notice) could not only contain the opposition, but also put in some really threatening attacks. Souderton, much like PA Elite in the next game, couldn't deal with the discipline of the Knights and it was no surprise when we took leads we wouldn't give up. Hannah and Emma constantly attacked the right baseline and Maggie picked everything that came back at her on the other board. Haley, Lianna and Cassidy got in some great goalscoring positions and next time will get more goals to match their effort and desire.
The final game was a challenge against an organized Nook team but that didn't stop the group playing some excellent hockey. Gianna continued to produce little bits of magic in goal and though we ended with a loss we undoubtedly had the progression that we always look for.
The team doesn't have a great deal of experience with each other but their work-rate and desire was exceeded by no other team and that's exactly how we should always be. Great work all round.
Spartans FHC brought a U16 team to our usual practice time for our U14 and U16 teams. It meant we could play a little round-robin tournament and although there were outrageous suggestions that Joey added on time just so the team he was coaching could score (outrageous!!!) it was a great morning and we would like to thank Spartans for coming along. Seeing the U14s playing against and with U16s shows what a great future we have has a club.
Play-days are something we would really like to encourage. We are big believers that we play hard on the court or field but that doesn't stop us from being friends with players and parents from all teams off the court. Hockey teaches how not to be better athletes, but what it means to be an athlete and what it means to be part of a team. This will always be a central part of what Mid-Jersey Knights teaches
NIT U16 Qualifier @ Ursinus
Gianna Duddy (GK)
This U16 team may have started the day trying to remember each other's names, but by the end of it they not only came together as a team, they played some great hockey and came within a whisker of grabbing a dramatic and deserved victory.
Game 1 was a match-up against WC Eagles, a team whose name sometime comes before their ability. The game was tight and we more than matched the opposition for work-rate but it was their experience that told in the end. A 3-0 loss was respectable and was largely down to Maggie and Hannah in defense, along with some excellent goalkeeping by Gianna.
The next game saw us take on Philly Hockey Club and though the scoreline may suggest otherwise, there was huge progression from our young team. In midfield, Sophia and Emma worked their socks off while a forward line of Haley, Caryn, Carli and Angela created some real opportunities for us going forward. Hannah and Maggie continued to do well, but this was also a game that Olivia really stood out, not for her forward play but for her defensive work and great tackling. We generated penalty corners but just couldn't quite grab the goal our play deserved.
Next up was undefeated Reach Hockey Club. The challenges that the Knights took on board were to create penalty corners and not to be out-fought - they took both on-board. The game started tightly but only a miraculous change of direction stick save from Gianna in goal kept it tied. Up front, Haley was definitely not being out fought and she used her immense strength to win the corner that we needed. It didn't quite come off but her work set the tone for the game. To a player, they worked incredibly hard and passed the ball with confidence and understanding. It was a great progression but it wasn't quite enough to snatch the win.
We went into the final game knowing that qualification for the NIT was beyond us but we knew we had one last great performance in us - and the team didn't disappoint. We outplayed our Electric Surge opposition but some excellent goalkeeping from the opposing keeper frustrated our forwards and APC unit. Still, with the scores tied at 0-0 we knew we had a chance to get that elusive win in a shootout. It would prove to be dramatic.
Maggie went first and confidently put the ball between the goalkeepers legs. Textbook. Surge came back and scored on Gianna, before Haley just missed her chance to put us ahead. Surge scored and Sophia stepped up knowing that she had to score and she did with an outrageous piece of skill! And then Gianna stopped Electric's final shooter to put us into sudden death. Three rounds later - between Sophia having chance to win it with a penalty stroke - Electric Surge managed to sneak the win. Ugh.
Any frustrations from the shootout were put to one side though when we assessed how far we had come over the day. Defensively, offensively and our togetherness as a team, we improved in all departments.
Whenever we play, whenever we train, improvement is always the focus of the Knights. Winning is awesome but we will find longer terms success if we focus on the process, not just the end result. For this group of U16 Knights, the process was more than little impressive.