NORTH CALDWELL, NJ - If the saying “It isn’t how you start, it’s how you finish,” is true, West Essex field hockey is in good shape.

The first seeded Knights took down ninth-seeded High Point by a score of, 5-1, behind four second-half goals to put the game away. This was West Essex’s first game of the North 1 Group 2 State Tournament, where they had a first round bye. High Point was coming off a tough, 3-1, win over eighth seeded Jefferson.

The emotion was evident from the beginning of the game, as both teams recognized that a loss would end their season. West Essex came out firing, earning corner after corner in the opening minutes. However, they were unable to convert any of these into a goal until junior Jordyn Thies (15 goals) scored off of a rebound with 9:50 left in the half. However, High Point quickly retaliated with a goal of its own, leading to a timeout. The timeout seemed to spark some energy into the team, and sophomore Julia Russo (25 goals) scored a goal, ending the half at a score of, 2-1, in favor of West Essex.

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The Knights dominated the shots on goal, yet all they had to show for it was a one goal lead. Coach Jill Cosse, in her halftime speech, focused on “playing smarter and making things happen for us.”

There was a noticeable fire in West Essex coming out of the half as they dove, ran, and screamed throughout every play. The hustle was led by Thies and freshman Ellie Decker (13 goals), which eventually paid off when the pair teamed up for an additional goal for Thies as well as Decker’s first of the game. Sophomore Ashley Iannuzzi (13 goals) scored as well to give senior goalie Paige Innarella more support on her birthday.

Altogether, four of the top five scorers for West Essex had a goal in the game, with the exception of junior star Lia Sinisi (28 goals), who has committed to Michigan State. However, Sinisi made up for her lack of goals by making some nice defensive plays to steal the ball.

“The turning point was putting Ellie Decker in the game,” said Cosse. “Ellie’s play at left wing showed everyone that the game could be won.”

Decker has not been in the starting lineup for the last couple of games “not because she wasn’t performing, but because we needed a corner hitter.” Cosse said she was impressed with Decker’s performance off of the bench, and it provided a spark for the team.

Decker said coming off of the bench pushed her to “give it everything.” It was different going in now than the beginning of the season (when she was starting), because when you’re on the bench all you want to do is get into the game,” Decker said. “I gave all of my energy and pushed through every second I was on the field because I knew I had to prove myself.”

In any sport, it is a completely different atmosphere to come off of the bench. There is no time to adjust to the game, because everyone has already had that adjustment period. Decker recognized that, saying, “At first I was nervous, but I knew there was no time to be nervous. I just had to play my game and do the best that I could.”

While West Essex bounced back from High Point’s first-half goal to score four consecutive goals, Cosse said she was not entirely happy with the team’s performance. “When we had a chance, we didn’t respond as well as we hoped,” Cosse said. “I'm not a believer in waiting until the second half to score, I'm a much more aggressive coach.”

Cosse said she believes the team should be even more aggressive in capitalizing on opportunities, rather than waiting for the other team to slip up. “I don't like playing on my heels,” said Cosse. “I don't like feeling like you're waiting for someone else to set something in motion, I like to be the one setting things in motion.”

West Essex now awaits the winner of the West Milford vs. Lakeland game, while High Point’s season has ended. The Knights are potentially two wins away from winning the North 1 Group 2 section of the state tournament.

Jake Wolf is a student at West Essex High School participating in a journalism program with TAPinto.net.