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
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