HAMMMONTON St. Joseph High School field hockey is once again expected to be in the hunt for a title this fall.
As for the rest of the Wildcat programs, the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams, and the girls’ volleyball squad are all young and in the midst of rebuilds.
The following is a look at St. Joseph fall athletic teams:
A year ago, Nicole Cirigliano made an immediate impact as a freshman, scoring a team-best 17 goals for the Wildcats, who finished the season 8-9-2.
This year, another freshman, Katie Lillia, has entered the program with the potential to give J.P. Jones’ squad another natural scorer, but also take pressure off Cirigliano.
“I have another freshman (Lillia) coming in that has a lot skill so I think it is going to make it difficult to double team (Cirigliano) like they did last year,” Jones said. “She is another person that can put the ball in the back of the net. She is really skilled, has good speed and a good shot.”
Besides the need to find more scoring, the Wildcats also need to stay healthy with just 13 players on the roster. Although some players on the squad may lack experience, the Wildcats can rely on seniors like Jana Martini, Gabby Sirolli, Kayla Harris and Angela Frederick.
That being said, the Wildcats need a few of the new faces on the team to develop quickly. The Wildcats will also have a new keeper, as senior Kayla Jacoby and freshman Michaela Mundy are battling for a starting role. Whoever is in net will have sophomore Sara Guevara and freshman Meg Allen to anchor the defense in front of them.
“We are very low on numbers,” Jones said. “We only have 13 kids on the team. We have three players who never played before. We are depending on them, but they are getting better every day.”
The Wildcats’ program is now in the hands of first-year coach Matt Acciani, who inherited a young and relatively undersized team for his first season at the helm.
The Wildcats feature nine underclassmen and just three seniors. The three seniors are Shane Layden (center back), Glenn Hilliard (midfielder) and Kevin Johnson (midfielder/forward). Acciani will need the trio to lead the squad on and off the pitch.
“At the minimum (we have to rely on them) just in terms of strength and size,” Acciani said. “You have nine ninth- and 10th-graders, 14- and 15-year-olds, playing against 17- and 18-year-olds. You need some guys on the field with that strength.”
However, the squad, which won three games in 2014, will need more than just the three seniors to move the program forward. Sophomores Darrien Wittock (center back) and Sean Heefner (midfielder) played well as freshmen and expect to take even bigger strides this season. Chris Lopez, a transfer from Oakcrest, will be paired up with Heefner as an attacking midfielder.
Freshman Josh Kahler will be in net, beating out three other candidates because Acciani liked his work ethic and the long-term potential of the young keeper.
“The first year transition is the goal, especially with our age,” Acciani said. “It’s going to be a transition year and we are going to have to do a lot of work to turn around what has been almost a malaise of the program. Maybe there hasn’t been that push for expectation of success. Coming in I want to change that attitude. I’m looking for the boys to develop as players, to see the game at a higher level and to play faster.”
Other than football, the field hockey program is the most consistent program at St. Joseph, seemingly always in the hunt for a conference and sectional title.
This year shouldn’t be any different. The Wildcats return a strong nucleus from a team that won 15 games last season, lost just twice in the conference, and made it to the NJSIAA Non-Public South semifinals.
Like last year, the Wildcats are a young team, but have been through the battles of the 2014 campaign. Sophomores Gab Scocca and Gianna Morganti were among the team leaders in scoring as freshmen.
Senior Carlina Sacco led the team in goals, and fellow senior Grace Petrongolo anchors the defense. Junior Julia Jones, who has an all-around game, also returns for the Wildcats.
St. Joseph has plenty of firepower on offense and a strong defense to get back in the championship hunt. The only question remained unanswered is who will be in the cage, following the graduation of Michaela Power.
However, if the past is an indication, the Wildcats seem to find a way to overcome key roster loses year after year.
With star players like Dana DiRenzo and Jess Bergbauer, the Wildcats ended the season with an admirable effort in the opening round of the playoffs, dropping two close games to Kent Place.
However, this year’s squad will have to make do without DiRenzo and Bergbauer, as the Wildcats try to improve, but also have an eye on the future.
Sarah Wible, the team’s lone senior, returns as an improved player according to Wildcats coach Karla Maisto. Wible is a versatile player and will be used in many different positions.
Other than Wible, the team’s core is made up of sophomores. Mackenzie Fabrico may be the most experienced volleyball player on the team and had 45 kills and 49 digs a year ago. Samantha McGlynn, Julianna Paolini, and Claire Swift all are expected to be major contributors once again.
“I really just want the very talented sophomore class to improve and be a real contender next year,” Maisto wrote in an e-mail.
She added: “We gave the (seventh-seeded) team in the playoffs last year a real run for their money, which I hope to use as a confidence booster this year. I expect those freshmen from last year’s playoff team to step up to the plate this year.”
Freshmen Geena Tartaglia, who could become the team’s defensive specialist, and Allison Wichrowski could also be factors this season.
Besides being a young team, the Wildcats also lack height with the tallest player being 5 feet, 9 inches tall. These two factors are hurdles the team has to overcome, but the future could be bright.
As of publication, St. Joseph coach Barry Jackson was still trying to recruit runners for both the boys’ and girls’ squad. The lone returning runner for St. Joseph is Evan Otto, but Jackson said he will try to salvage the season by attracting more athletes once school officially opens. It remains to be seen if the Wildcats will move forward with the season.