SPHS field hockey preview, 2019: Tigers putting in the work

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, N.J. -- The South Plainfield High School varsity field hockey team’s 2019 season is almost here and that means a fresh start.

Last year, the Tigers went 12-8 and made it to the semifinals of the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament to Old Bridge and in the quarterfinals of the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 2 tournament to Voorhees.

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Lauren Zultowski (eight goals, six assists), Lynda Farinella (five goals, 13 assists), and Ashley Olson (one goal, two assists) were each All-GMC performers, but they have since graduated and need to be replaced. And while that won’t be easy, the good news is South Plainfield returns a ton of production and hard workers who are young with room to grow.

“We had a very strong senior class last season with a lot of talent, so our current players knew that they needed to step up in the offseason and over the summer to fill the big shoes they left,” coach Melissa Zurawiecki told TAPinto South Plainfield. “The girls participated in club hockey, indoor league, strength and conditioning, as well as our summer practices to help prepare. Coming off our season ending loss to Voorhees, there was a shift in commitment and drive that we saw in our program for the better. They realized that if they worked together as one team, one unit with high intensity, they could accomplish anything.. I believe they saw the potential that our program has and that really sparked a fire within each player to put in the extra work and it has shown this preseason.”

Last year, rising sophomore Madison Geis netted a team-high 11 goals while senior Lauren Calvey had six goals and an assist as a junior. Sarai Adams and Gianna Barbara, who were also freshmen a year ago, each scored three times. Barbara had two assists as well while Kourtney Scipio had a goal and three assists.

Goalie Kim Fontana racked up 142 saves, too.

Zurawiecki is counting on those aforementioned players as well as newcomers in Kelssey Macpherson, Amanda Bermo, Kaylee Basantes0Llevena, Kristina Shaw Ja’Mia Helms, Lisarielle DeAngelis, Shannon Csordos, Kylie Mott, and Giovanna Fibraio.

“We have many returning varsity starters and subs from last season and I am excited to see how they step up,” said Żurawiecki, who is entering her sixth year at the helm of the Tigers. “They were under good leadership last year, so they have a good base to start from in regards to our program’s philosophy and expectations. There is always a buffer period each preseason where players are starting to adjust to new positions, new teammates, and new formatons, but we’ve seen over the past few weeks within our scrimmages some really great developments.”

Zurawiecki believes her team’s strength is the depth and experience of the players she returns and their versatility.

“Going into the season, I feel like one of our biggest strengths is our experience level. Most of the players on the field are returning starters or subs and I believe they are more equipped to handle the pressure and demands of the varsity level,” Zurawiecki said. “It’s a big transition coming up to varsity, so having that experience allows us to push the pace on the field and challenge the other teams we face. These players also are versatile and can play multiple positions which is something coaches love. This will definitely help when playing teams within our conference who we play twice, sometimes three times within the season.”

On the other hand, even with the returning experience, her main concern is finding leaders like she had in 2018.

“One of our biggest concerns going into the season is replacing the graduated leaders on and off the field,” the coach said. “There was such strong leadership from that senior class, so it will be interesting to see who steps up into those roles. I think we have a strong group of upperclassmen, so it will be exciting to see who takes on the responsibility to lead our team in the right direction.”

It’s been a few years since South Plainfield won the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament in 2016, but the Tigers are consistently one of the stronger teams in the county. That’s no different in 2019, especially because of the effort and hard work the team has put in.

“I believe this team has a lot of potential to be extremely successful this season,” Zurawiecki said. “Our conference is always tough to compete in, so the girls will really need to work together as one unit to get the job done. Their goal is to make it back to the conference final and win another championship, but they realize the hard work, dedication, and perseverance they will need to accomplish that. We have a strong group of student-athletes and I think if they continue to hold each other accountable and push each other day in and day out, they have the ability to make that goal a reality.”

South Plainfield’s season gets going on Tuesday, Sept. 3 at Piscataway at 4:00 p.m.

For the full schedule of games, click here.

Follow Chris Nalwasky on Twitter @ChrisWasky.