Stafford Leader Southern Fall Sports Previews

Southern Again Favored for Field Hockey Crown

Also Gymnastics, Girls Soccer Outlook
By David Biggy | Sep 13, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy GO-TO SCORER: Maitland Demand is back for her senior season as she leads the Southern field hockey team's powerful offense.

Stafford Township — Even going into the first games of the season last week, every field hockey team in the Shore Conference Class A South division had to realize the team to beat was Southern Regional. For coach Jenna Lombardo’s Rams, the question probably isn’t so much whether they can win the division again, but can they go undefeated in the division again.

Of course, those questions and more will be answered during the next six weeks. But let’s just get to the point, shall we? Southern is just flat-out good. Very good.

While Lombardo never lets out too many secrets regarding her team before a season begins, she didn’t have any difficulty stating one obvious fact.

“We have some of the best senior leadership I’ve ever seen,” she said. “Positive team play is what we are striving for.”

Translation: Southern is led by some amazing players and has a supporting cast that makes the Rams just about unbeatable for many teams. Only the traditionally best programs in the Shore Conference can take them on and outscore them.

That’s really what it will take to beat Southern, because they have some serious firepower.

It all starts with senior and four-year starter Maitland Demand, who undoubtedly is the catalyst for the Rams’ offense. Not only can she score goals in bunches, and from just about anywhere on the offensive side of the field, she also distributes the ball extremely well to set up scoring opportunities for her teammates.

Beyond Demand, there’s very little dropoff in terms of talent and experience. Senior forward Erika Barbera is one of the toughest players around. She knows how to put the ball into the cage, as does senior forward Emily Raylman. Throw in junior midfielders Kate O’Boyle and Veronica Ruoff, along with junior forward Kiera Lyons, and Southern’s offense is just that much deeper.

Defensively, there’s no question the graduation of Emma Wilhelm hurts the Rams this season. Her field vision and calm presence was a staple in the backfield for several years. However, with returning seniors Priscilla Nicolini, Grace Cartegena and Samantha Zarrillo anchoring the backfield, and junior Maddy Brown in front of the cage this fall, the Rams should be in good enough shape to develop some younger defenders to fill in the gaps.

Remember, this is a program that always has younger players in the system ready to rise. That should be evident again this season. Among the newcomers expected to get plenty of time to prove themselves are juniors Kacey Kubarewicz, Kelsey Bigum and Ella DiPietro; and sophomores Isabella English and Sarah Lally.

Southern started its season by scorching Class A South foe Toms River South, 9-0, on Sept. 5. Demand and Raylman each scored four goals, and Lyons added another, while Barbera and O’Boyle delivered four and three assists, respectively. The Rams jumped out to a 6-0 lead by halftime and rolled from there, as Brown needed just two saves for the shutout.

Gymnastics Squad

Extremely Talented

The depth of the Southern Regional gymnastics team is borderline insane. Coach Judy Miller’s squad only lost a single gymnast to graduation following last season’s 11-1 campaign. Truth be told, she wasn’t among the highest-scoring gymnasts on the team. All of the rest are back, and none is yet a senior.

Talk about scary. This is a team that scored more than 100 points in every one of its meets last fall. The Rams only lost to a team that needed to score 109 points to win.

This season, expect much of the same from Southern.

“We have a veteran team with a strong sophomore and junior base,” said the coach. “The majority of the returning gymnasts are quite capable in the all-around, which will provide for much-needed depth during the middle and latter part in the season. We’re once again looking to qualify as a team in the postseason, as well as increase the number of individual competitors represented.”

The list may get long, as juniors Maria Mezzo, Ali English and Hailey Klimas, along with sophomores Ava Kelly, Abigail Scheider and Emma Wasacz, all take aim at scoring big this season. Last year, all six qualified as individuals for the Shore Conference Championships and the NJSIAA South Jersey sectional meet.

Kelly ended her stellar freshman season by competing in the floor exercise at the state finals.

As for the rest of the team, it is extremely deep with talented individuals, including the only senior on the squad, Gianna Antinora; juniors Callie Borman, Hannah Craft, Daniella Minneo, Gwen Moran and Catalina Pisciotta; sophomores Gianna Manganiello, Gabriella Plazas, Mia Rienzi, Mikayla Rua and Hannah Russo; and freshmen Kate Basile, Julianna Gentile, Jordan Hubert, Delaney Moore and Savanna Walsh.

Girls Soccer

On Fine Start

For all intents and purposes, this could be one of those seasons that gets highlighted in the history books for the Southern girls soccer program.

“We have a lot of talent, with very good leaders among our upperclassmen,” said coach Kaitlyn Hartkopf. “There’s no division on this team. They have great chemistry. Sometimes, we’ve had great athletes. Sometimes, we’ve had great soccer IQ. Now, we’re putting everything together with great soccer players. And that makes a big difference.”

So far, the difference has been a noticeable change not only in the way the Rams play, but also in their attitude – there’s more confidence on the field.

Of course, such confidence starts with the team leadership, which includes seniors Megan Lockwood, Karagan Bulger, Alex Mattner, Shayna Kenduck and goalkeeper Lindsey Selert. It filters down into the junior class of Brookelle Kline, Stefani Leonard and Ashley Altman. Even some of the youngsters – sophomores Riley Schoka, Hailey Hochstrasser and Shae Cassidy, in particular – are more seasoned following last season, and bring a solidity to the team this program hasn’t seen in a long time. Add in a freshman with a nose for the goal, Gianna Simon, and the Rams are a force.

As long as the Rams are consistent with their scoring, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be among the contenders for the Shore Conference Class A South division crown, and a threat to go deep into the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV tourney.

For now, though, Hartkopf will take things one day at a time.

“I’ve said it every year since I arrived: you never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “We’re a talented team, but only hard work and commitment get you really far. But we’re fortunate to have a lot of hard workers and committed players. So we’re optimistic.”

The rest of the crew consists of senior Riley Chenoweth-Hafner as the team’s reserve goalkeeper, and Shay Johnson, Melanie Lockwood, Bri Bushman, Shannon Flaherty, Jenna Castaldo, Leah Morrin and Sarah Boyd.

The Rams got off to a 2-0 start with victories over Manchester and Jackson Liberty. On Sept. 5, Southern fell behind by a pair of goals to Manchester in the first half, before storming back with five goals in the second half for a 5-2 win. Simon tallied three goals, while Altman and Megan Lockwood, who also had two assists, each kicked in one. In their opening 4-0 win over the Lions on Sept. 3, Simon scored twice, while Hochstrasser and Kline each delivered a goal, and Lockwood distributed a trio of assists.

— David Biggy

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