The competition in Cape-Atlantic League American Conference field hockey might be closer this year.
Ocean City High School, which hasn’t lost a conference game since 2013, graduated nine senior starters from last fall’s state Group III championship team. Five of those players were first-team Press All-Stars.
Egg Harbor Township also has some rebuilding to do but returns goalie Hailey Rando, midfielders Angelica Dagit and Carlee Kiedaisch, defender Erika Kacprzykowski and forward Olivia Elwell, among others.
Mainland Regional has Paige Care, a 38-goal scorer last year who was a first-team Press All-Star. The Mustangs also feature midfielders Mikayla Carson and Emily Osterman and defender Amanda Dearborn.
Millville should do well this season, with forwards Natalie Corson and Jorja Hibschman, goalie Michelle Errickson, midfielder Ava Wright and defender Eve Miller.
Absegami and Atlantic City could both pull some upsets, and Vineland and Bridgeton should be improved.
“Things look pretty good,” Egg Harbor Township coach Kristi Troster said about her team. “A lot of our defense is back, but we lost three or four scorers. We think our record should be about as good as last year (EHT was 11-7). There’s no replacing Erin (Hogan, EHT’s team leader last year, who graduated). We need everyone to work as a unit. I think we’ll get better offensively as the season goes on.”
Rando, a senior, has been the EHT starting goalie since the middle of her freshman year. She’ll play for Rowan University next year.
“We lost a few players, and that’s a challenge, but everyone is playing hard, and it should be a good season,” said Rando, 17. “We have a lot of younger players. The defense is doing a lot of drills. It’s nice having my younger sister (freshman defender Isabella Rando) on varsity.”
Ocean City beat EHT 8-0 and 5-0 last year, and topped Mainland 10-0 and 4-0. The Red Raiders defeated Millville 8-0 and 6-0.
Ocean City’s losses to graduation could make for closer games this fall, though that isn’t definite considering the Red Raiders’ younger talent.
“It doesn’t matter to us what a team loses or gains in players,” Mainland coach Jill Hatz said. “We adjust a little according to who we’re playing, but we concentrate on us.”
Ocean City travels to Mainland on Monday, and visits EHT on Sept. 18. The Red Raiders host Millville on Sept. 26 at Trish LeFever Field. EHT travels to Millville on Sept. 15 and to Mainland on Sept. 20. All those games are at 3:45 p.m.
“The conference should be really interesting,” Troster said. “Ocean City lost a lot, but they’re always really good. The top teams will have to dig it out.”
Ocean City will be led by forward-midfielder Shannon O’Reilly and goalie Maddie Kahn. O’Reilly scored 24 goals last year to become a first-team Press All-Star. Kahn had 18 shutouts.
“Our focus is on ourselves and making sure we play our best every game,” Ocean City’s first-year coach Kelsey Mitchell said. “Our goal is to get better every day and work together to uphold the Ocean City field hockey tradition.”