Just before a big game against rival Haddonfield Tuesday, Collingswood High School field hockey captain Ellie O’Neill spoke to her teammates about something that had been on her mind in recent weeks.
Captains often deliver speeches in Panthers’ athletics, so it wasn’t the fact that O’Neill spoke up that was significant, but rather the message she delivered.
She told her teammates that every one of them has value to the team and that none stands above another.
“I was thinking over the past couple of weeks about how when we play other teams it’s always ‘watch number four’ or ‘watch number three,’ but we don’t really have a star on the team,” O’Neill said.
“We all trust each other, because we all know each other is equally good.”
Moments after delivering the message, O’Neill and her teammates upheld it, as six different players scored in an 8-0 romp over Colonial Conference rival Haddonfield.
“It’s not just one kid out there playing and everyone else just playing around them,” Collingswood head coach Valerie Dayton said. “It really is a team effort and they all play well together.
"There is no real superstar; it is just a nice team that plays well together," Dayton said. "It’s something Ellie talked to the girls about, and it’s absolutely true.”
Even as the game quickly got out of hand, the girls created some healthy internal competition to motivate one another to be the next person to score a goal.
“It’s fun,” said O’Neill, who scored her eighth goal of the season Tuesday. “It’s really competitive within our team as far as who is going to get the next goal. It’s exciting for all of us. It’s just so much more competitive this year.”
Collingswood’s domination of Haddonfield confirms the Panthers’ place as the team to beat in the Liberty Division, and possibly Group 2 as well. Last season, the Bulldawgs won the division title and Group 2 South Jersey championship, so Tuesday’s outcome represents a monumental shift.
“We haven’t beaten them since my freshman year, so it feels good,” O'Neill said.
“I’m very proud of them and I think they are very excited,” Dayton said. “No matter how the year is going, Haddonfield-Collingswood is always a good hard-fought game. Both teams were still going hard deep into the second half. It’s a good rivalry and it always has been.”
The game was brought to a sudden halt with 43 seconds left in the first half when senior Rachel Galante suffered a scary injury. While fighting for a loose ball, Galante was struck in the head by the stick of a Haddonfield player and immediately fell to the ground, blood streaming.
Teammates, coaches and the training staff quickly rushed to her side and controlled the bleeding within seconds of the incident. Galante remained down for several minutes, but rose to a large ovation. She was taken to the hospital precautionarily, where she was set to receive several stitches for the cut.
“I think she was a little freaked out at first when she saw she was bleeding, but she quickly composed herself,” Dayton said. “She said she felt good and didn’t have a headache or feel nauseous.”
Relieved that the injury was not as bad as it originally looked, the Panthers went on to play inspired hockey for the remainder of the game.
“In our huddle, I just told everyone not to think about it and to keep playing our game,” O’Neill said. “We were happy that [Galante] was OK. We wanted to win it for her.”