Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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Phil Anastasia: Final Super Seven (Expanded Version)

Eastern field hockey won the Tournament of Champions in its sport.

Phil Anastasia: Final Super Seven (Expanded Version)

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Eastern field hockey won the Tournament of Champions in its sport.

So did Haddonfield girls’ tennis.

Lenape girls’ soccer won the Group 4 state title and was named the No. 1 team in the state – for the third year in a row.

Which was the best team in South Jersey?

Cherokee won the South Jersey Group 4 title in football.

Were the Chiefs better than Haddonfield boys’ cross country, which won its fourth consecutive Group 2 state title?

Or Rancocas Valley boys’ soccer, which beat the No. 2 team in the national rankings, won the best division in South Jersey and also captured the coaches tournament title?

These teams don’t play each other. But it’s still fun to rank them.

Here’s the final Super Seven of the fall season:

1. Eastern field hockey (26-2). Here’s some staggering numbers: The Vikings are 57-1 in state tournament play since 1999. They are 255-2-5, overall, against New Jersey competition since 1999. They’ve won 11 consecutive Group 4 state titles.

But this isn’t a decade-achievement award. Coach Danyle Heilig’s team deserves the top spot because the Vikings went 26-0 against New Jersey opponents and overwhelmed the competition in the Group 4 state tournament as well as the T of C. This was a team with seven completely committed seniors, led by Iowa-bound forward Kelsey Mitchell and North Carolina-bound defender Melanie Dawson.

2. Haddonfield girls’ tennis (32-0). No team, not even Eastern field hockey, dominated South Jersey competition like Haddonfield girls’ tennis. The Bulldogs won every match against South Jersey foes by a 5-0 score.

But Jeff Holman’s team really made its mark in the Tournament of Champions. Without a senior in the lineup, and with freshman Taylor Ng at No. 1 singles, Haddonfield beat Group 3 champion Millburn and Group 4 champion Westfield by 3-2 scores. In both matches, the Bulldogs needed to rally from deficits.

“I don’t know if we’re the best team in the state,” Holman said. “But we did win the last point in the last match.”

3. Lenape girls’ soccer (23-1). Get this: In the last three seasons, the Indians won three Group 4 state titles as well as three coaches tournament titles. That means Kevin Meder’s team went 29-0 – 12-0 in the coaches tournament and 17-0 in the state tournament – in an endless series of pressure-packed games against top competition, many of which were decided by one goal.

That’s remarkable. Senior defenders Carolyn Wiley and Carley Carmody were big keys to that run. But with young players such as sophomore forward Katie Rigby still in the program, Lenape might not be finished.

4. Haddonfield boys’ cross country (10-0). The Bulldogs finished one of the great four-year runs in South Jersey cross-country history with a nagging sense they left some unfinished business out there in the woods.

Coach Nick Baker’s team was off the charts in late September and early October. They won big regional races in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and the Bronx, and senior Jon Vitez won the individual titles at both of those competitions. Haddonfield also won its fourth consecutive Group 2 state title.

But it’s a measure of the strength of this team that the Bulldogs felt they could have accomplished much more. If they were healthy and running their best, these guys probably could have captured the Meet of Champions, and also earned a berth to the Nike Nationals the next weekend at the regionals.

That didn’t happen. But any team that goes undefeated against South Jersey competition, finishes fourth in the state and captures its fourth consecutive Group 2 state title deserves its place among the best in any sport.

5. Cherokee football (11-1). Eight football teams finished this season with one loss. The Chiefs are the best of that bunch based on their victories over previously undefeated Williamstown (which finished 10-1) and Egg Harbor Township (11-1) en route to the Group 4 sectional title.

Coach P.J. Mehigan’s team got great senior leadership from the likes of Tyler Powell, Sean Farrell and Jeff Long, and featured enough young players – especially juniors Andy Martin and Mike Zeuli – to rate among the preseason favorites for No. 1 in 2010.

A Thanksgiving Day loss to Lenape district rival Seneca kept Cherokee from a perfect season. But the Chiefs responded like champions, shutting down Egg Harbor Township 14-0 in the cold rain and swirling snow in the Group 4 title game.

6. Rancocas Valley boys’ soccer (19-3-3). No team in this group suffered more losses than the Red Devils. But no team played a more challenging schedule, either.

Coach Damon Petras’ team played nationally-ranked St. Benedict’s Prep, Delbarton and Salesianum (Del.) while competing in South Jersey’s best division, the Burlco Liberty. Rancocas Valley also won the coaches tournament, beating four other quality opponents.

Senior midfielder Alec Golini, senior forward Manny Payton and senior defender Terrell White led the Red Devils through that thicket of a schedule.

7. Hammonton football (11-1). The Blue Devils rate the narrowest of edges over Delran boys’ soccer for the final spot based on the strong finish that resulted in a South Jersey Group 3 championship.

Coach Pete Lancetta’s team suffered one loss, a 23-19 setback to Group 4 finalist Egg Harbor Township in one of the best games of the regular season. Led by quarterback Nick Crescenzo as well as Maryland-bound, two-way end Ian Evans, Hammonton beat Seneca, Non-Public 2 state champion St. Joseph’s and Timber Creek in its final three games.

Under consideration: Delran boys’ soccer (21-2-2), Paul VI girls’ soccer (20-2), Williamstown football (10-1), Gloucester Catholic girls’ soccer (18-1-2), Delsea football (11-1), Washington Township field hockey (17-3), Haddonfield girls’ soccer (23-1-1), St. Augustine boys’ soccer (21-2).

-- Phil Anastasia

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