With nearly everyone back from last year's 11-6-2 team, the Southern Regional High School field hockey team won't sneak up on anyone like it did last fall.
The Rams, ranked eighth in The Press Elite 11, are off to an excellent start at 4-0 and have outscored their opponents by a collective 20-1. Southern's wins, all in Shore Conference A South, are over Toms River North 5-0, Toms River East 6-1, Brick Township 3-0 and Brick Memorial 6-0.
Southern's strength is traditionally at midfield, and this year is no exception with senior midfielders Elyse Broderick, Arielle Galgano and Sam Burns leading the way.
"So far so good this year," Southern coach Kathy Snyder said. "The strength of our midfielders has eliminated a lot of our defensive problem, because getting the ball past them is pretty tough. Elyse, Arielle and Sam go from end to end. They do offensive and defensive corners. Those three run the entire game for us."
Broderick was the only returning starter other than goalies last year but led Southern to a surprising year that included a 2-1 win over Egg Harbor Township in the state Group IV tournament. The Rams lost to Shawnee 2-1 on a late goal in a South Jersey semifinal.
"After the Shawnee game, we couldn't wait for next season and we all stuck with field hockey in the offseason to get ready," said Galgano, 17, of the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township. "We're all pulling together. I expected us to come out strong but it's surprising how well we've done and it's a confidence boost."
Broderick was a Press first-team All-Star last year at center back, but Snyder moved her up to center midfielder to better utilize her all-around ability.
"I knew we were going to be good this year because all the team came back," said Broderick, 18, also of Manahawkin. "I think we'll keep progressing. The three of us (midfielders) play well together. We all started in the seventh grade, so it's been a while."
Burns leads Southern with four goals, while Galgano and forwards Brianna Angellella and Mary Conroy have three apiece.
"We can move up Arielle to center forward if we need to," Snyder said. "We did that against Toms River North and got four goals in the second half."
Other forwards are Ann Marie Stango and Meagan Coughlin. Defenders are Taylor Rossi, Molly McElwee, Renee Chambers and sisters Anna Schmoll and Lizzie Schmoll. Madison Alessi plays midfield and defense. Anastasia Pona has been in goal for three of the wins, and Rianna Martarano for the other.
The Rams have 27 on the varsity roster and all have seen playing time.
"If any of our girls are tired, a lot of others can pick up the slack, so we should be able to wear some teams down," Snyder said. "It's great to have so many playing, but I hope it doesn't take its toll on us. We try to play them, but it might take time away from our starters. I hope it doesn't come back to bite us."
Southern hosts Jackson Memorial (1-3) at 3:45 p.m. today, and has a Shore A South showdown at Toms River South (4-0) at 7 p.m. Thursday.
"It's tough to tell how things will go in A South until we've played everybody at least once," Snyder said. "We take them one game at a time, and the kids understand that. They're very positive and they work very hard. We'll need some breaks at times, and we'll do what we can do."
Note: Buena Regional High School beat host Hammonton 2-1 on Monday, the Chiefs' first victory over Hammonton since 1994, according to veteran Buena coach Barb Meyrick. Hammonton returned this year to the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference, restarting its rivalry with Buena. The Blue Devils were in the American Conference from 2002-2011. Before that, the two teams met twice a season every year.
Buena hosts St. Joseph at 4 p.m. today in a matchup of unbeaten teams.
Contact Guy Gargan: