My first year of covering high school field hockey was the 1985 season. Dan Brennan, who had done the job in my first full year of working at the Observer, had left the previous January for the Star-Ledger and now the job was mine the next fall.
I learned a lot in that first year of covering the sport. I had some great coaches to learn about the sport, from Toms River East's Gail Halbfoster to Toms River South's Barbara Hughes to Point Pleasant Boro's Judy Goldstein to Toms River North's Becky Miller to Central Regional's Madeline Dutton.
They made my education quite a bit easier. And I got to go watch games during my off-time from work and school, like Friday, November 1, 1985 at Winding River Park across from Community Memorial Hospital when Toms River South hosted Point Boro and I took the family dog to the park just so she could get away from the house. For one moment that day I thought South's Toni-Marie Izzie wanted to take Andie (the dog) with her home.
I was ready for the postseason that year, which included that second annual Shore Conference Tournament, which South and Point Boro were playing a first-round match in, and the state tournament. Toms River North, led by sensational sophomore scoring machine Kim Bush, and a talented senior group that included Missy Bernacki and Val Trotman, were eliminated in the quarterfinal round of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV tournament.
By Friday, November 15, 1985, the only team left in the state tournament from Ocean County was Central Regional. Coach Dutton's Golden Eagle was upperclassmen heavy and were doing well in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III Tournament. And they made it to the championship game on this day against a team with a top-notch reputation in the sport, Camden Catholic, coached by Chris Palladino and led by leading scorer Erica Richards.
The game was to be played at a neutral site, in this case Hightstown High School, which really was an unusual site for a final. Why, you may wonder? First, Hightstown High is technically a Central Jersey-based school, located in Mercer County. I guess field hockey compared to other sports and locations for games and teams for that matter was just "different." Of course, at a school I've never been to before, I had to get directions to the school the old-fashioned way ... by calling the Hightstown Police Department. They gave me what I thought was easy directions.
Then again for this just-turned 19-year-old mind, easy wasn't as easy as it sounded. I took Route 571 through western Ocean County up to Route 537 and onto I-195, the belt road across central New Jersey which had not been finished connecting into the Trenton area at that time. But I was to get off at the exit on Route 539 that led me into Hightstown. I knew there was a road that needed to be taken that would take me straight to the high school.
But finding the road was a challenge. The problem was I didn't have all afternoon to drive up and down every road. Turns out someone gave me the wrong road name at the police department and when I got into Hightstown, a local was able to lead me to a road called Leshin Lane. So back in the other direction I went until I saw the sign for Leshin Lane. Made a right turn and this long road led me to the high school.
So it existed. And I can see the teams warming up in the back on this clear, beautiful fall afternoon with temperatures in the mid 50s.
Dutton's charges were led by a talented senior class -- Kathy Laing, Barbara Lange, Sue Bondalich, Kerri Quinn and the ringleader of the senior players, center-forward Cory Golembeski, a very beautiful young lady with an outgoing and sometimes flirtatious personality. Dutton made her responsible for calling in Central Regional's wins and losses that season. She was a joy to take information from over the phone. She also came from a strong sports background since her dad, Gerry, was the athletic director at CRHS.
But the talent was even better in the junior class, starting with defenders Betty Hester and Mandy Dafeldecker and going to forwards Jackie George and Janet O'Rourke and goalkeeper Dawn Cosnoski. The Golden Eagles were 15-4 and actually looked like the favorites to win the title compared to the 10-3-3 Irish, who were the defending SJ III champions.
In 1985, I didn't know many of the moms and dads of the Golden Eagles team, but one mom was very outgoing and friendly, a strawberry blonde named Jayne. She was Mandy Dafeldecker's mom and she had the personality to invite an entire room to a party even if she didn't know you. You easily can be attracted to that. You don't meet too many Jayne Dafeldeckers in the world. She brought her whole family to the game -- her husband Bob and her two other daughters, Amy, a freshman at CRHS, and Amber, a 10-year-old.
My job in covering field hockey was like that of covering soccer -- just walk up and down the field to cover the action from close range. Hey, it was worth the workout each and every time I covered a field hockey match (or soccer for that matter).
It was clear from the start that Central meant business. Six minutes into the match, they forced the issue and when Golembeski took a rebound off goalkeeper Liz Callahan and blasted an in-close shot past her, the Golden Eagles were on their way, up 1-0.
Today was going to be the day that Central was going to make history for the program. But slowly, the Irish were gaining momentum and at the 13:30 mark, they tied the match when Richards took a pass from Nancy Wright on the right wing and ripped a shot that Cosnoski had no chance of stopping. Simple textbook field hockey passing and scoring and it was 1-1.
And the Irish weren't finished with their assault. Not one bit. Moments after tying the match, they were heading down the field looking to flex their muscle. Somewhere in the circle, the ball got tangled under the feet of a Golden Eagle defender. No one ever really pointed out the Central player who got tangled up with the ball, but nonetheless, the official on the game put her arms up in a crossed position and I knew what that meant.
Central was in trouble for a kick that wasn't delivered by Cosnoski and a penalty flick was called. Palladino called upon Richards to calmly slip the ball into the back of the net and make it 2-1. Done deal. Camden Catholic was on its way to another SJ III title.
Someone forgot to tell Cosnoski that this was Camden Catholic's day, though. I can still see Richards pushing the ball to the right of Cosnoski and the goalie reacting with a right hand save away from trouble. Central fans and players celebrated the goalie's stop and the game remained tied at 1-all.
Turns out this was going to be a game of wild swings. One moment, Central was dominating, the next it was Camden Catholic and then again it was Central. The first half alone was exhausting with all the swings. And the last swing in the first 30 minutes belonged to the Golden Eagles. Central put pressure in Notre Dame's semi-circle and O'Rourke put a well-placed pass on the stick of George, who put it the ball past Callahan, making it 2-1 with eight minutes left in the first half.
That was how it would stay up until halftime. By the half, I was just minding my own business and counting up stats until I felt the back of my head assaulted -- a soccer ball hit me unexpectedly. When you don't expect those, they can hurt. I turned around to see who the culprit may be ... and there was this sheepish grin on the face of 10-year-old Amber Dafeldecker with a soft-spoken "Sorry," following it. The Dafeldeckers, turns out, were a true soccer family and if there was an open space, someone was kicking a ball around within the family.
I smiled back ... but man that hurt. The head is the part of your body you don't take lightly or for granted. It was hard to be forgiving for that moment, but ultimately, I did. Meanwhile, Central was just 30 minutes away from winning an SJ III title and moving on to the Group III semifinal.
The second half was a back-and-forth battle for control in the first 15 minutes. But at the midway part of the half, the Irish found the run that would tie the match up as Karen Walsh set up Wright for a short-range blast past Cosnoski.
And that was it for the second half. Neither team mustered a major threat to take the lead and so after 60 minutes of hockey, we were tied. And we were heading for overtime and the "golden goal" moment for either team. The next goal would win the SJ III title. Central came out of its huddle with Dutton fired up and ready to go. So did Camden Catholic. I had a feeling that with the way this game was playing out, it was going to be a perfectly placed and set up goal that would decide the championship. I was prepared for it.
Ten minutes of the first overtime and Central Regional attacked. And attacked. And attacked again. The Golden Eagles had nine -- yes, nine! -- penalty corner opportunities, including an insane seven in a row. You'd think one of these would end the game, right. Nope! Callahan and the defense was up to the task of knocking the ball away each time.
So we switched up sides and played another 10 minutes. If it was still tied after that 10-minute period, we were going to the dreaded one-on-one penalty shot session that no one, including myself, liked. But it was the way for advancement and so it was advisable to get this game done before that happened.
The second overtime was a little more even as both teams challenged back and forth. Then it happened -- just two minutes into that second extra session, the Golden Eagles were called for "intentional blocking" in their semi-circle with the Irish on the attack, which meant that someone trapped the ball under them and didn't allow the play to take place. It could have been Cosnoski or Hester or Dafeldecker. Who knows who got called for it, but nonetheless, it was called by the official on the field.
Suddenly, the Irish had another penalty flick to make. And Richards was called upon again to take the shot, even though she was stoned on the first attempt in regulation time by Cosnoski. But it's funny how these things work -- one moment, you miss on a great shot, and then the next moment, you put an absolute clunker on goal ... and get lucky.
Richards got lucky. It wasn't a great shot, but Cosnoski was expecting something waist-high like the last time. Richards hit a groundball that eluded the Central goalie and trickled into the net.
It was over. Camden Catholic players stormed the field. Central players came off stunned, some in tears. The Golden Eagles' season was over. I hated the fact that the game was decided on a call like that. Maybe the intentional blocking happened, maybe it didn't. But I didn't think the ball was blocked or kept away from play for that long personally. To this day, I thought it may have been too quick a whistle. You always try to let the teams play unless the call was that egregious and then you have to make that call.
Dutton, who I couldn't thank anymore for helping me throughout the season, would tell me afterward about the two penalty strokes in the game, "The first penalty shot was uncalled for. The second was a right call. It was a good game. It was just a shame that it had to be a referee's game. I wish it would have been decided by the girls playing the game."
I think her sentiment was agreed by all that played. But the way it was quoted -- that top part of the quote about the two penalty flicks -- was awkward. However, that was what I heard and I may have made the mistake of misquoting her.
All I knew was that I had to get back into Toms River and get to Toms River South for a Friday night football matchup between South and North that Friday night. It wasn't much of a football game as South decked North, 31-15, and the only "highlight" was a heated argument after the game between South coach Chip Labarca and North coach Jerry Clarey, Labarca pissed off because of some kind of film exchange snafu between the schools. It was all happening in front of me and then-Asbury Park Press writer Al Ditzel. The only person we were able to talk to was outstanding South tight end Dwayne King afterward. It was ugly that night.
Got back to the Observer building right there not far from South to type in both of my game stories for the day and leave since we didn't have a Saturday paper. The stories went into the paper and I didn't think anything of what I wrote.
Now it's Monday, November 18, 1985, and the last county field hockey team left playing, Toms River North, is hosting Shore Regional in the Shore Conference Tournament championship, which has been put on hold for the moment due to Shore's success in the state tournament. Shore was amazing year in and year out. It's halftime of this exciting match, which North would win, oh by the way, on penalty shot one-on-ones. That's a whole different story for a whole different time.
I got called over to the fence by a familiar voice. It was Cory Golembeski. So I walk over, say hi, and then get hit with this.
"You made our coach and team look like a bunch of assholes!"
That was her way of telling me what her coach said was twisted and misquoted. All that aside, how did I make the team look like a bunch of assholes? I certainly wasn't trying to. I certainly would have apologized for it. As a matter of fact, her coach in my 14 years covering the sport at the paper never mentioned the quote because she would have. Trust me ... she would have.
And I hate to admit it, that would be the last time I played nice with Cory Golembeski since she practically walked away from me after that. I don't play that game -- you want to say something to me, let's talk it out. Don't walk the hell away. All this just floored me.
She made All-County and since I had to supervise the picture taking in the Observer office, she came in, we didn't say a word to each other, she left and that was it. We never saw or talked to one another again.
The end of Central's season was sad and maybe a little controversial. But it only made for motivation in 1986 when that group of Central juniors the year before, led by Cosnoski, Dafeldecker, George, Hester, O'Rourke and Jen Kleva, won the SJ III title, made an amazing comeback in the Group III semifinals against North Hunterdon down 2-0 in regulation time with mere minutes to go to tie it in regulation, then won it in overtime to get to the championship against Northern Highlands at Rider College, losing in the championship, 3-1.
Dutton won Coach of the Year honors for the 1986 season and numerous players made the All-County team that year.
But the 1985 season got things rolling for that '86 club. Central made it easy for my "education" in the sport. I couldn't help but thank Dutton for that.
It was an enjoyable first full season covering the sport in every way, shape and form.