The Mainland Regional High School field hockey team vaulted to South Jersey prominence Friday with a 2-1 upset win at home over powerful Ocean City.
Mainland junior forwards Vanessa Pagliei and Rachel Rubenstein scored goals almost a minute apart with less than 10 minutes left in the first half. Mainland goalie Natalie Geary made it stand up with 19 saves.
It was the Mustangs' first field hockey win over Ocean City since 1993, and the Red Raiders' first Cape-Atlantic League loss since 2007.
"It was an absolutely incredible feeling to win the game," said Mainland senior co-captain Kailey Stangle, 17, of Linwood. "We really worked well together as a team to make it happen."
Mainland (5-2) earned the 10th spot in the first Press Elite 11 field hockey ranking of the season. Ocean City, the defending state Group III champion, is ranked sixth.
"It was just unreal to beat Ocean City," said Mainland senior midfielder Sydney Losco, a 17-year-old Linwood resident and the other co-captain. "They're our biggest rival. Their girls are so skilled. They all play on club teams. At the buzzer it was like the best feeling in the world. Our skill, intensity and communication all clicked."
Mainland entered the game at 2-2, with losses to Kingsway Regional (1-0) and Egg Harbor Township (3-2), two highly regarded programs.
"We needed to learn how to play together, and there was no better game to do that than Ocean City," Mainland coach Jill Hatz said. "Everyone worked together and gave everything they had. Everyone's mental and physical games were as good as they could get.
"We're learning how to play together and hopefully we'll keep our confidence up and go on a winning streak."
Mainland got a scare from an improved Atlantic City team on Monday, but the Mustangs pulled out a 3-2 win with a second-half goal by sophomore forward Ashley Albright.
The Mustangs also have wins over Buena Regional (6-1), Absegami (6-0) and Millville (6-1). Mainland has outscored opponents 24-6. The Mustangs traditionally feature good defense, but have improved their goal-scoring output so far. Last year Mainland scored 46 goals in a 12-8-1 season.
"We're a consistent team from the front all the way back to the goalie," Hatz said.
Stangle, a forward, leads the team with six goals, while Pagliei and junior forward Angela Robbins have five apiece. Albright has three goals.
The midfield and defense played a big role in the Ocean City win. Losco leads the Mainland midfield, and she's joined by Courtney Corson and Jillian Bruno. Backs are Jeana Fitzpatrick and Megan Stafford. Mimi McCabe has shared time in goal in most games.
Important substitutes are defender Jasmin Smith and midfielder Abby Roberts, a first-year field hockey player who's also the Mainland softball pitcher.
The Mustangs travel to Oakcrest today for a 4 p.m. game. Mainland hosts Egg Harbor Township in their second game on Oct. 9. The rematch with Ocean City is on Oct. 18 at O.C.
"Now that we've beaten Ocean City, teams will definitely have their eyes on us," Losco said. "We have to be considered a team that could beat anybody. It's nerve-wracking, but I'm happy for my teammates and my coach."
Stangle added, "Teams will look out for us now, and we're going to have to prove ourselves and play hard."
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