Valerie Dayton admitted to being a little nervous prior to the Collingswood High School field hockey team’s quarterfinal game against Barnegat on Monday.
The concern wasn’t due to a lack of confidence in her No. 1 seeded Panthers, nor was it directed towards the talent level of the competition.
The concern came from the layoff the team endured between Monday’s game and the Panthers' previous contest, which came way back on Oct. 23. A first-round-bye in the NJSIAA Group 2 playoffs provided some rest, but Superstorm Sandy extended that rest an unwelcome length of time.
Fortunately for Dayton, her concerns evaporated after less than two minutes, when Ellie O’Neill scored the first of many goals for Collingswood in an 8-0 romp over No. 8 Barnegat. Ten minutes later, Krista LaMaina added a pair of goals 26 seconds apart and the rout was on.
“Relief,” Dayton said of her feelings after the game.
“I was definitely nervous knowing that we played St. Joe's way back on Oct. 23. Knowing it was such a long layover, I definitely felt a little nervous, but they have worked hard, and when we left the (practice) field Saturday, I could sense they were ready to play.”
The Panthers dominated play throughout the first half, building a 6-0 halftime advantage without allowing a shot to a Barnegat squad that has yet to return to school after the storm hit.
“We were all passing really well,” said LaMaina, who increased her school-record scoring total to 43 points. “We all make goals in the beginning of the game for how many we can get before the half ends, and we got six this time.”
If there was any rust on the part of Collingswood players, it certainly did not show
“It was definitely long,” LaMaina said of the break. “We were all definitely ready to play this game. We just kept practicing as long as we could the whole time we were off.”
The Collingswood coaching staff did its best to find a balance between overworking the girls and giving them too much time off. That meant giving the players some off days while also shaping up practices so they didn’t have a training-camp feel.
“I think (the break) that helped some of the girls get a little healthier and it helped mentally to have a little downtime and get caught up on their schoolwork and blow off some steam a little bit,” Dayton said.
“We jokingly said it was the preseason before the postseason. We had some alumni come so we could play against other people and do some competitions to keep it fun and interesting. We did anything we could do make it different and a little more interesting for them. They really did hang in there. They were dreading it at this point of the season but we made it through.”
LaMaina said the coaches handled the situation well.
“[They] incorporated some stuff to try and make it more fun and more productive,” LaMaina said. “We weren’t just doing the same thing over and over again.”
Collingswood will next play in the Group 2 semifinals on a date yet to be determined. Dayton said the game, against No. 4 Woodstown, is slated for Friday.
Earlier this week, the NJSIAA announced that it has canceled the Tournament of Champions due to all of the postponements. That means the field hockey will conclude with the state finals in each group.