Holmdel, N.J. - Coming into this season, the Holmdel High School field hockey team set forth a mission to finish with a winning record, host a state playoff game and make it to the second round of the state sectional tournament.
All those goals came full circle on Tuesday afternoon in the opening round of the NJSIAA North 2, Section 2, Group 2 Tournament when the No. 8 seeded Hornets rallied back from a one-goal deficit in the second half to defeat No. 9 seed Hopewell Valley 4-3.
“This is so special for us,” said Holmdel field hockey coach Melissa Murphy. “We have such a special senior class this year. All season long, we’ve just been trying to have fun and work hard. It all came through in the win. Even in the chaos of the game, that’s how they function and it was fun to watch.”
Down 1-0 going into halftime, Holmdel roared back with a fury to begin the second half, executing its set play off the cornerperfectly two times in a row.
The first goal came in just under a minute into the second half as Madison Yan deflected in a nice feed from Catherine Haggerty at the point to help Holmdel tie the game at 1-1.
Just like their first goal, the duo of Haggerty and Yan did an exact replica of Holmdel’s first score to put the Hornets in the lead just four minutes into the half.
Gathering the corner pass from teammate Natalie Grana at the point, Haggerty served a perfect ball to the front of the cage where Yan was standing shielding her defender from the ball.
Once Yan got her stick on the ball, the young sophomore flipped the ball over the heads of both the defender and the Hopewell Valley goalkeeper and into the cage for her second goal of the contest to put Holmdel up 2-1.
“I was just thinking that I had to finish. There was no other option,” Yan said. “We were down 1-0 and needed those two goals to get the lead. I’m so happy I was able to do that for my team and happy that Catherine (Haggerty) helped me get those two goals.”
Holmdel continued to thrive off its momentum in the second half, adding to its lead with 16:01 left to play off Sara Safari’s ninth goal of the season to make it a two-goal game.
Just under three minutes later, the Hornets added to their lead again with Haggerty notching her game-high third assist of the contest.
Taking the corner this time, Haggerty fired a nice pass to teammate Emma Quirk standing at the middle of the 15-yard line, and the sophomore smacked home her first goal of the season to put Holmdel up 4-1.
“It was just nice to see that the team as a whole was working together to get the win,” Haggerty said. “This was our first state home playoff game in a while, so we wanted to win this game really bad.”
The Hornets had completed the comeback and looked to be cruising to the quarterfinals up three goals with under 13 minutes to play, but Hopewell Valley put together one last rally attempt to try to keep themselves dancing to the sectional tournament.
After Bella DiNardo scored her team-high second goal of the contest to cut the Holmdel lead to 4-2, the junior helped bring the Bulldogs within one goal with just under 10 minutes remaining.
Driving towards the cage, DiNardo slapped a nice pass to teammate Chloe McGregor, who scored her first goal of the game to cut the Hornets lead to 4-3 with 9:45 to play.
Their once three-goal lead down to a mere goal, the Hornets needed to dig down deep to hold off Hopewell Valley to accomplish their goal of making it to the quarterfinals, and sure enough they did.
As Murphy continued to yell words of encouragement and telling her team to stay composed from the sideline, players for Holmdel repeatedly stepped up to make plays all around the field to keep the Hornets in the lead.
Goalkeeper Jenin Engemal stepped up and made a key stop with a minute and a half to play for the Hornets, kicking away McGregor’s shot on net to keep Holmdel up one.
Engemal finished with five saves in the win for Holmdel.
As the clock struck zero, the Hornets rushed the field in celebration of their 11th win of the season and rejoiced in what has been a spectacular season for this tight-knit Hornets group.
“We have been working on our composure all season and knew that good teams can comeback from behind and win,” Murphy said. “Our girls are mature enough and understand to stay calm and play our game. I’m proud of them.”
Grana had two assists in the win. Carson Fontana added in an assist in the Holmdel victory.
Holmdel extends it’s winning-streak to a season-high five straight games with the win. It’s the largest winning streak the program has had in the last six years.
Their 11 wins tops the 2013 team’s 10 win mark for the most single-season victories the program has had in the last 10 years.
“It takes a special team to come this far,” Murphy said. “I think the girls have found their own rhythm and have come together as a unit. It’s been really exciting and fun to be apart of.”
Holmdel will face No. 1 seed Voorhees in the quarterfinals.
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