VOORHEES >> Like so many teams before them, the Cherokee High School field hockey team’s season ended at the hands of mighty Eastern.
But an 11-0 final score doesn’t tell the whole story, Chiefs’ head coach Devon Bell insists.
“I do not feel the score tells the story of the game,” Bell said of her team’s loss in the NJSIAA South West D semifinal playoff game Nov. 18. “There were a lot of small victories within the game and for anyone who was present at the game, I feel as though they would say the same. Along with this, the score doesn’t highlight the positives. Our goalie, Sarah Crysler had 31 saves. She is by far one of the best goalies in the state and I feel that needs to be recognized. Additionally, we have also battled major injuries this year along with other hurdles that hindered some of our performance on the field.”
What are the positives for such a one-sided score?
“Losing is never easy but our team never gave up,” said Bell. “After the game I looked each player in the eye and asked: ‘Did you give me 110 percent?’ and they all said yes. As a coach, sometimes you have to look at the small victories. The girls left the field with their heads held high and a smile on their face.”
Bell continued: “Also, due to the nature of the pandemic, just being able to finish the season is a huge reward. Our players took great responsibility and pride in their decisions. They hung out with each other, they did not attend parties, and they really worked hard to keep the program safe.”
Cherokee’s lopsided loss was the second of the season to the eventual sectional champion Vikings. In the third game of the season, Eastern prevailed, 12-0, Oct. 5 in Marlton.
The Chiefs have the tough task of facing Eastern twice a season since the two schools are in the same division – Olympic Conference American Division – each fall.
Bell says her team isn’t the least bit intimidated by the challenge of facing one of the top programs in the country.
“Eastern is obviously a top team in the state, but our approach does not change,” said Bell. “We have a program ‘creed’ that we live by and the girls know to always play Cherokee Field Hockey and follow our goals. In addition to this, the athletes in our program are tough. They do not back down from the top teams, if anything it motivates them. They enjoy being challenged and always step up to any competition thrown at them.”
Bell continued: “To us, a big part of breaking down Eastern is building the pipeline for the future. We have an amazing recreational program in Marlton that has really grown over the years. Our goal is to continue to build the pipeline so that there are always top players coming through which in return will help us be a top team.”
The Chiefs came into the Eastern game after a long layoff caused by the cancellation of their quarterfinal playoff contest with Williamstown.
“We went a week and a half without a game,” said Bell. “We did work closely with our athletic director (Scott Agnew) to try and pick up a game, but with the pandemic and teams being shut down or quarantined due to exposure it just wasn’t possible. We were still able to practice, which really helped to keep our spirits high.”
Bell felt her team made the most of the 12-day layoff.
“Having a long layoff can be tough, but if practice is competitive and the kids are working hard every day it helps to prepare for that,” she said. “Our goal was to make practice as hard as possible and each day have a certain focus to help us prepare. We also have ‘accountability checks’ or stipulations during practice. For example, in a drill if the ball hits your foot it is a lap around the track before you can come back into the drill. This helps to keep the focus.”
Cherokee finished the season on a three-game losing streak to three of the top teams in South Jersey – Seneca, 4-0, Nov. 4; Moorestown, 4-1, Nov. 5 and the Eastern setback.
Prior to that, Bell’s 7-7 squad was on a season-high three-game winning streak with shutouts of Paul VI (8-0), Cherry Hill East (9-0) and Cherry Hill West (3-0).
Senior Alex Kulinski (15 goals, 8 assists), juniors Isabella Mele (8 goals, 6 assists) and Emma Wright (7 goals, 3 assists) led the Chiefs in scoring this season and Crysler was stellar in goal with 211 saves and five shutouts to her credit.
Despite a .500 record, Bell said this season will remain with her for quite some time.
“This 2020 season may be one of my favorites yet,” she said. “The seniors were absolutely amazing and just made everyone laugh every day. The girls on the team really found every positive and celebrated it. One of my assistants, Jill Ormsby, said it best: ‘Could not love these girls more. As coaches, we needed this season as much as the kids. Thank you Chiefs for being the best part of my year.’”
Bell has high praise for her coaching staff, which includes Ormsby, Alexis Mancinelli and Kelsey Rella.
“I am a firm believer in having a united and strong coaching staff,” she said. “I have the absolute best staff.”
What are the prospects for next season?
“I have high expectations for Cherokee Field Hockey in 2021,” said Bell, who has a career record of 45-46-4 in five seasons. “We return eight out of our 11 starters and we will have all of our girls back. This year we played several games with different athletes in quarantine - including the Eastern game - and we played the majority of our season without Isabella Coluzzi. I feel as though having all of these pieces back in 2021 will help to complete the puzzle. Adding to this, our freshmen class this year has some great talent so we look forward to them contributing.”
Cherokee Field Hockey
Staff: Devon Bell, head coach; Assistants: Alexis Mancinelli, Kelsey Rella and Jill Ormsby.
Game-by-Game Results: Oct. 1, at Lenape, W 2-0; Oct. 3, Rancocas Valley, W 6-1; Oct. 5, Eastern, L 12-0; Oct. 7, Bishop Eustace, W 2-1; Oct. 13, Washington Township, L 4-3; Oct. 15, at Winslow Township, W 12-0; Oct. 19, at Camden Catholic, L 4-2; Oct. 21, Shawnee, L 3-1; Oct. 27, at Paul VI, W 8-0; Oct. 30, at Cherry Hill East, W 9-0; Nov. 2, Cherry Hill West, W 3-0; Nov. 4, Seneca, L 4-0; Nov. 5, Moorestown, L 4-1; Nov. 18, at Eastern, L 11-0 (NJSIAA South West D Semifinals).
Player Statistics (Goals, Assists): Alex Kulinski, senior (15, 8); Isabella Mele, junior (8, 6); Emma Wright, junior (7, 3); Samantha Butkus, junior (5, 1); Alexa Antonelli, junior (3, 3); Isabella Coluzzi, junior (3, 2); Erin St. John, sophomore (3, 1); Jenna Bocelli, senior (2, 1); Ava Jade Dandrea, sophomore (1, 1); Erin Jackson, senior (1, 1); Shae Alexander, senior (1, 0); Alexa Ronning, junior (0, 2); Natalie Roesch, senior (0, 1); Lily Thompson, senior (0, 1); Paige Yocum, junior (0, 1).
Goalie Statistics: Sarah Crysler, junior, 211 saves; Brianna Glenning, senior, 1 save.