In the end, the Collingswood High School field hockey team probably deserved better.
For more than two months, the Panthers were better than every team on their schedule not named Eastern, and for much of the Group 2 South Jersey final against Camden Catholic, that trend continued.
But much like soccer, field hockey games don’t always go to the team that has the better of the play, and can be decided in a way that takes every player off the field except a goalie and a shooter.
Collingswood’s loss to Camden Catholic in penalty strokes last week deprived the Panthers of a South Jersey title and the opportunity to compete for a state title. What it could not take away, however, was the memories of a wildly successful and historic season.
“This was such a special season,” said Collingswood head coach Valerie Dayton. “From the very beginning these girls knew they had a chance to have a great year and they bought into what we were coaching them.
"Obviously this is a tough way to go out, but these girls need to be proud of what they accomplished. It was a pleasure to be a part of everything that happened this season.”
Collingswood’s success didn’t just come from one area; it was all over the field. From senior attacker Krista LaMaina’s school-record 44 goals, to goalie Becca’s Hall’s 18 shutouts, the Panthers were the definition of a complete team. For the season, the Panthers scored 124 goals, 92 of which came from assists.
Although the Panthers were loaded with talented upperclassmen, the team was also able to give a lot of younger players varsity exposure this season in lopsided games. As a result, 12 different Panthers scored during the year.
Right from the preseason, there was a feeling that this team could be in for a special journey. The program was celebrating its 100th anniversary and had events planned throughout the season that relished its history, while also putting a spotlight on the present.
The Panthers never slowed down, going undefeated in conference play and cruising to a title. Their final record was 21-2, with the second loss the most difficult to swallow.
“It’s heartbreaking for them,” Dayton said. “They worked hard and they wanted this. In their eyes it was their time to get it.”
A South Jersey title will have to wait for another year. A host of players will graduate, but new ones will fill in and keep the winning tradition alive. That tradition has lasted 100 years and there's no reason to believe it won’t continue for many years to come.