EHT girls lacrosse one of hottest teams in S.J.
Egg Harbor Township girls lacrosse coach Franklin Williams didn’t shave prior to an April 5 game against Millville. The Eagles started the season with consecutive losses to Mainland and Middle Township, but against the Thunderbolts they wiped out a 9-7 halftime deficit by outscoring Millville 9-5 in the second half to capture their first win of the season. Williams figured not shaving was a good luck charm, and jokingly told his team that he wasn’t going to shave again until the Eagles lost another game.
As the calendar turned to May, coach Williams’ wife wasn’t too happy about her husband’s three-week beard.
The Eagles came into May as one of the hottest teams in South Jersey, having won 11 straight games to improve to 11-2. All of a sudden, Cape-Atlantic League powerhouses Ocean City (12-2, 10-1 as of May 3) and Middle Township (13-1, 12-0) had another contender to deal with.
“Once we beat Cedar Creek (on April 12) we got over .500 for the first time since I’ve been coaching. I started last year, and we reached .500 the very last game of the season last year. But this is the first time we’ve gone over .500,” Williams said. “I told the girls, ‘this is important to me.’ I told them I hadn’t shaved since we lost, now we’re 11 games down the road and my wife is yelling at me. The girls took it really seriously, and now their mission is to get me to look like a wizard.”
“He shaved right before the beginning of the season, then we had those two hard games right at the beginning of the season. He noticed that we started winning when he stopped shaving. He asked us if he could shave, but we all said no, that he had to keep it going until the streak is ended,” said junior captain and leading scorer Erin Hogan. “He’s been complaining that he’s getting a little scruffy.”
Williams said not having junior defender Celest Orbe hurt the Eagles early on. She was away in Florida during spring break looking at colleges when EHT lost its season opener 16-12 to Mainland. But once she got back in the lineup, the defense has been playing well, and that, in turn, has sparked the offense. During the 11-game winning streak, the Eagles outscored opponents 178-101 after being outscored 34-18 in their first two games. Beating Mainland the second time around put EHT at 4-2 and really started things rolling, Williams said.
“That’s what really started us on a roll. When we played Mainland in the first game of the season, we didn’t really have the cohesion we have now. And, I was missing one of my best players on defense. (Orbe) was in Florida and was looking at colleges over spring break. She’s a junior and she’s a voice back there and kind of takes control back there on defense, and I think that’s why we let up so many goals against them. But the second time around, having Celest back helped us really control the tempo of the game and that’s what really got us rolling,” Williams said. “Honestly, the biggest difference for us is getting the girls to believe in themselves. I knew going into this year that we had some talent, and I think the girls are finally buying into the system and buying into themselves. I knew we were going to have to take it game by game, but I thought no matter what, we always had a chance. And that’s what I told the girls from Day One. We have the ability, and we have a very young team, which helps because I think they are fearless. I told them, ‘we have a chance in every game, so as long as we are fighting, we’ll be there.’ I didn’t know overall how the season would go, but I knew we always had a shot.”
“That pretty much started it for us. We played Absegami before that, but the Mainland game was the eye-opener for us to say that we are competitors (in the CAL) now. Our defense has really stepped it up this season,” Hogan said. “In the past, we’ve had great individual players on defense, but our defense is just working insanely well together. It’s a cumulative effort, everybody is coming together, getting back and working on defense. It’s a really big team effort.”
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Hogan said the ease with which the Eagles get along, off the field as well as on it, has been a big factor in Egg Harbor Township’s success this season.
“We’ve really been working together very well. We struggled a little bit at the beginning of the year. We lost a lot of seniors from last year, but I think we have an insane amount of talent on this team. It took us a while to get used to each other, but once we did, we’ve been hitting it off since then. We all have known each other for a long time. A lot of the girls played field hockey together. I think we did expect to do well, but this is even better than we thought we would do,” Hogan said. “The girls are great. High school lacrosse — and with high school sports in general — there can be a lot of drama, but everyone has been great. We’re all getting along very well, and the winning is just a bonus. We’re all just enjoying going out there and playing together. (The winning) is just a byproduct of all the hard work we have been putting in.”
Sophomore Mia Monecelli has settled in as the starting goalie, and offensively the Eagles are so well-rounded that defenses have a hard time matching up with all the potential goal scorers. Through the first 12 games, EHT had five players in double digits in goals scored, and nine players had scored at least a goal. The Eagles also had 46 assists on 100 goals scored.
“The perfect example was our game against Lower Cape May,” Hogan said. “I got face-guarded the whole game and I didn’t score. I don’t think I even had an assist. But we had Jordan Santana step up and scored six goals, Jess Sheffer helped out and scored (three goals). It showed we’re not just a one-scorer team. We have an entire offense that can score.”
“We have such a team mentality. Erin Hogan is one of the most dominant players in the CAL, and teams try to shut her down. But we love when they face-guard her because it just opens up everyone else. I don’t think we’ve had a game since we went on that winning streak where less than five players have scored. When we beat Millville to get our first win of the season, Hogan had eight goals. The next game, Nicole Jandris had six goals. Then it was Jordan Santana with six goals, then Jess Sheffer had seven goals. The ball has been getting passed around so much that I don’t think teams know who to focus on because we have such a solid team on offense,” Williams said. “I coached two years at the freshman level before I took over varsity, and even on the freshman level that was my mentality. We want to make this a team sport and we want to get the ball moving around. It’s so hard to stop when everyone can score.”
A huge test for the Eagles comes on May 6 when the Eagles travel to Ocean City, a team that has challenged for the league title the past two seasons and is doing so again. Williams said he views that game as a measuring stick to see how far the Eagles have come.
“We’re sitting in a playoff position. Ocean City will be a big game for us. If we can take one from Ocean City, that would be huge for us,” Williams said. “That would be big for us in terms of power points. There are so many teams out west and even though they might be 2-8 they have more power points than us.”
“We have Ocean City coming up. We’re playing them twice in two weeks, and that’s going to be really tough,” Hogan said. “But if we can just keep up the intensity we’ve been playing with, I think we have a shot. Hopefully, we can get far in the playoffs. Last year we didn’t even make it to the playoffs.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays