First-year head coach Kelly Halliday and the Ocean City High School girls soccer team knew exactly what they were getting into on Saturday as they made the trip to Voorhees for a South Jersey Coaches Tournament game.
The Red Raiders went anyway.
Ocean City squeezed into the tournament as the No. 16 seed and had the unenviable task of taking on the top team in the prestigious 16-team tournament.
Eastern Regional is the No. 1 team in The Press Elite 11 and one of the state's premier programs. The Vikings defended their home turf with a 4-0 win.
The game was Ocean City's most lopsided loss of the season but may have also been the team's biggest victory.
"It was kind of a reality check that there's always a team better than you but it was a win in my book even though we did lose because we played our hearts out," Halliday said.
"We were in that game. We played with them. I think overall that it was a good experience that this little school from Ocean City could hang with the big dogs."
Ocean City bounced back from the loss in the Coaches Tournament with a 1-0 win against Oakcrest on Tuesday to improve to 10-2. The Red Raiders, No. 8 in the Elite 11, are in charge of the Cape-Atlantic League American race and were the only CAL team to receive an invite to the tournament.
"We started out the season saying that we wanted to make things count this season and being invited to the Coaches Tournament was definitely one of our goals," senior captain Rosie Catanoso said. "Working our way up just shows how much we wanted it."
Catanoso, 17, of Seaville, is the team's sweeper and leads a talented defensive unit.
"We have a very good bond between the team," said Catanoso, a three-year starter. "We work well together and I think that has a big influence on how we play together. This is one of the closest varsity teams that I have been a part of. We're very capable of playing with each other and it has really showed this year."
Goalkeeper Meghan Kelly stepped into the starting goalkeeper role in the preseason after playing in the field last season.
The 17-year-old Ocean City resident has quickly become one of the CAL's best with eight shutouts.
"I have always played in the field and I wanted to try something different this year," Kelly said. "I asked coach (Halliday) if I could try it one day. I felt like I had played there for a while."
Kelly had 14 saves in the loss to Eastern and said the experience can only help the team going forward into the state tournament.
"We realize it was a huge honor," Kelly said of the invite. "That was the first time that Ocean City has been invited in years so even though we played the best team, we still did a good job and stuck in the game.
"I feel like whenever you play a good team, you get better just from playing them and we were able to stick with them."
Catanoso is joined in the defensive third by junior Shannon Tarves, who is a reliable defender with plenty of speed.
Captain Ashley Edgell controls play in the midfield and gives the team toughness, even playing a game recently with stitches in her head.
Devon Terwilliger leads the team with five goals and five assists but is currently out with an injury. Freshman Dara Hennessy has stepped in nicely and contributed with three goals, all game winners.
Veronica Garcia has two goals and three assists and Kristi Rohrer two goals and two assists. Patricia Fox has three goals with two game winners.
Ocean City went 4-9-2 last season but returned eight starters.
Halliday has done a nice job of winning now while also keeping an eye on the future. She dressed close to a dozen extra freshman and sophomores for the Eastern game to let them experience one of South Jersey's best.
Halliday is quick to deflect the credit but Catanoso and Kelly each said a new voice has been vital to the team's success.
"They are so competitive with each other," Halliday said. "They go hard every day. I never question their effort. They show up and play every day.
"The girls have been great. They have probably been more of an influence on me than I have been on them."
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