Pope John field hockey team hungry to improve

| 26 Sep 2017 | 06:54

    By Josh Lashley
    SPARTA — The Pope John High School field hockey program isn’t just talking about becoming more well rounded during games, not just as individuals, but as a team-they are taking action.
    Although the Lions managed a single victory last year, they are moving forward with a sense of pride and dedication and it all starts with head coach Erin Ashton.
    Pope John earned a 4-2 victory over North Hunterdon in the first round of the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament last weekend and are scheduled to face Hunterdon Central in the second round on the road on September 28.
    “We had a rough season last year as I was their third coach in three seasons,’’ Ashton said. “I'm back this year so we have some continuity in what I expect from them and my style of play. We are looking to pick up four or five wins this year and be more competitive in our league games. I started freshmen last year and I'm doing it again this year. We have a young team, but from seniors down to freshmen we have a team that is getting valuable time on the varsity field.
    “We are here to show that we aren't a joke and that we are well on our way to re-building the Pope John field hockey program. I am optimistic for this season and believe we will come away with a few more wins. But regardless of the actual outcomes of our games I already know this is a better field hockey team in every way.’’
    Adriana Purcell (senior, defense), Danielle Reilly (senior, defense), Maggie Walsh (senior, defense), Cameron Sacco (senior, offense), Katie Yarussi (junior, offense), Jordan Gulick (junior, offense), Erin Callahan (junior, offense) and Sophia Felix (sophomore, offense) are returning for the Lions.
    Newcomers to varsity include Sierra Benson (sophomore, midfield), Catie Lovett (freshman, forward) and Taylor Hanley (freshman, midfield).
    “Leaders Purcell, Reilly and Walsh all play in the back and I'm hoping their experience and leadership will anchor our team and help defend our goal,’’ Ashton said. “They are leaders on and off the field and are three-year varsity letter winners. Cameron Sacco and Katie Yarussi will bring strength, speed and hunger to the forward line. Callahan also just hit 200 career saves so we are looking for her experience in the goal and knowledge of the game to direct the troops.’’
    The Lions play in the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference American Division along with Morris Hills, Mount Olive, Vernon and Sparta.
    “We may be a spoiler this year,’’ Ashton said. “We are the under dogs and you know how that can work out sometimes. I worked hard on changing the culture and mind-set of the program last year and now we are hitting the ground running to rebuild the field hockey part. It won't happen overnight but I am already seeing improvement in the mindsets and the skills of these girls.
    “We are hungry and don't want to go down with only one win this season so my girls are working hard and would love nothing more than to shock a few teams out there this season.’’