Jill DiBlasi was never a big goal scorer.
In addition to the Hammonton High School girls soccer team, the senior has played for numerous club teams. DiBlasi, a talented midfielder, was always more of a distributor.
Not this year.
DiBlasi not only led the Blue Devils in scoring with 10 goals, she had four game-winning shots. Some of her biggest goals came in Hammonton’s toughest games, such as her first-half goal in an eventual 1-0 win over Holy Cross in a South Jersey Coaches Tournament game in October. It was Hammonton’s first appearance in the prestigious 16-team tournament.
DiBlasi is The Press Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
“It was shocking to me,” DiBlasi said of her Coaches Tournament goal. “To push us through to the next round was huge.”
Maybe she shouldn’t have been surprised.
DiBlasi made key plays in multiple critical situations for Hammonton (18-4), which had its best season in more than a decade. DiBlasi scored in double overtime in a 3-2 win over Rancocas Valley (16-4) on a windy September day.
Hammonton coach Lisa Cuneo called DiBlasi a quiet leader. Once she was named a co-captain as a senior, DiBlasi stepped up her game and taught her teammates through example.
“That’s what you rely on your leader to do,” Cuneo said.
DiBlasi finished her career with 25 goals. She started since her freshman year but truly fit into her role as a team leader this season.
“She came in super talented,” Cuneo said. “She just needed to be molded into a position where the team needed her most.”
DiBlasi capped off a stellar career for the Blue Devils with a goal in the South Jersey Group III semifinals to give them a 1-0 lead in what turned out to be a 2-1 loss to Moorestown, the eventual sectional champion. She will play NCAA Division I soccer at Temple University next fall.
Though the season’s end was bittersweet, DiBlasi looked back fondly on the historic season she helped create.
“Our coach always tells us how big it was to come this far, and that if she were on the team she’d love to be playing with us,” DiBlasi said. “It’s a really huge thing. We’re all proud to come together and share that experience.”
Team of the year
Hammonton’s fourth game of the season was a defining moment for coach Lisa Cuneo.
The Blue Devils beat perennial American Conference contender Absegami 2-0 on the road. After the game, Cuneo talked to her team about its potential for greatness.
“Something clicked in my mind. I said to the team and my coaches that we have something special here,” Cuneo said.
Hammonton won its first nine games. The Blue Devils followed that with their first trip to the South Jersey Coaches Tournament, won a Cape-Atlantic League American Conference title and reached the South Jersey Group III semifinals.
Hammonton is The Press Girls Soccer Team of the Year.
The Blue Devils featured 10 seniors who had given Cuneo high hopes even as freshmen. Three years of preparation culminated in this season. Hammonton didn’t disappoint.
Hammonton gained the respect of teams statewide with wins against programs such as Williamstown, Kingsway, Rancocas Valley and Holy Cross.
Hammonton was lucky to stay healthy all season and saw contributions across the roster. The Blue Devils got goals from 14 players.
Cuneo knew of her team’s potential. It was during that Sept. 12 at Absegami that the players began to see it, too.
“I had the bar raised very high for them, and it may have shocked them a little. But they met my very high expectations,” Cuneo said.
Coach of the year
Gary Jost began his tenure as Our Lady of Mercy Academy’s coach with certain obstacles — some bigger than others.
He guided the Villagers’ eight freshmen as they were forced to quickly make the transition to high school varsity soccer. They became key pieces to the OLMA team and combined for 31 goals.
He also helped his returning players deal with a tragic loss. Jost took over for his friend and former head coach Phil Caporale, who was killed in a car accident on May 20.
But the Villagers persevered. OLMA went 18-2 and won its first CAL National Conference title since 2005.
Jost is The Press Girls Soccer Coach of Year.
The Villagers outscored opponents 86-16 and recorded 10 shutouts. The freshmen learned what it takes to succeed at the high school level. Led by Jost, OLMA’s upperclassmen dedicated a fantastic season to their late coach.
“Everyone at OLMA is thrilled to accomplish what we have,” Jost said after clinching the National Conference. “The players have met every challenge put before them.”
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