The sport of field hockey runs in families, and that's especially true this season at Middle Township High School.
The Panthers have three sets of sisters in the program, including standouts Summer and Jenna Herlihy, a junior and freshman, respectively. Others are sophomore starter Devon Nagle and freshman sister Leah, and sophomore Honna Hippen and freshman sister Brooke.
Middle actually has four sets of sisters, if you count first-year assistant coach Shaina Murdock and her freshman sister Hailey.
"I think it has definitely helped us to have sisters on the team," Middle Township coach Janina Perna said. "In the past we lost siblings to other sports, but we're doing better, and the younger kids see their sisters doing well and they want to come out and be part of that."
Middle is 5-2 overall, 4-1 in the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference and 2-0 in National Division I. The Panthers' losses were 1-0 to Egg Harbor Township, The Press Elite 11's ninth-ranked team, and 2-1 to three-time conference winner St. Joseph, No. 11 in the Elite 11.
Middle has scored 37 goals in seven games and given up four.
Summer Herlihy, a junior defender, has helped the Panthers earn four shutouts and also has four goals. Jenna Herlihy, one of Middle's top young players, has seven goals.
"They have different styles but they're the hardest workers on the team," Perna said of the Herlihys. Summer has really helped the program. She has been a big influence in our improvement and that inspired Jenna to want to play field hockey too."
Middle boys cross country standout Ryan Herlihy is Summer's twin brother.
Both Herlihy sisters scored in Middle wins over Cedar Creek, Lower Cape May Regional, Bridgeton, and Buena, and Jenna Herlihy had her first hat trick against Buena (a 6-0 win).
"I helped to get Jenna into field hockey," said Summer, a resident of Dennis Township who will be 17 on Thursday. "This is our first year playing together. I prefer defense and I'm the main passer on the team. It's unusual that we have so many people related on the team this year. Jenna is doing well. When we talk during the game, it's mainly me talking to her. I tell her to go down the field."
Jenna Herlihy and fellow freshman Skylar Gentilini (five goals) help out senior forward Maddie Anagnou, who has 12 goals and is three away from tying 2009 graduate Leigh DeLollis' career school record of 44 goals.
Devon Nagle has been a starter for two years, and that has inspired Leah.
"When I started played field hockey, she wanted to play it with me," said Devon Nagle, 15, of Dennis Township. "We started playing in the backyard together. I work with her when I can and teach her. It's nice to have my sister on the team with me.
"We're having an awesome season. We really want to win. We work hard in practice and it pays off in the game. We did well against St. Joe and EHT, and the whole team will benefit from playing them.We have some good freshmen this year and we're better at scoring."
Honna Hippen has seen some varsity time, and scored two goals in a 10-0 win over Bridgeton.
Shaina Murdock was a four-year starter at Middle Township, graduating in 2011. She's the coach of the Panthers' successful JV team. Sister Hailey, who's coached by Shaina, has seen some varsity time.
"I convinced her to play when she was in the eighth grade," Shaina Murdock, a 20-year-old Cape May Court House resident. "Actually she's very cooperative and easygoing. The sisters on our team get along great."
Middle hosts Hammonton (7-1) at 4 p.m. today in a game for the CAL National Division I lead.
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