The Rutgers University field hockey team's Ocean City High School connection will include Kelly Hanna starting in 2015.
Hanna, The Press Field Hockey Player of the Year this past fall, has committed to Rutgers and will play for the Scarlet Knights. She'll receive a partial scholarship that's both athletic and academic. The 17-year-old junior center-midfielder won't sign a national letter of intent until next February.
"I'm really excited about it," said Hanna, a resident of Seaville in Upper Township. "I just think their program is excellent. Rutgers has everything I'm looking for academically and athletically. All the sports there are really supported. I also wanted to find a school that's close to home."
Rutgers is coached by Meredith Long, a former OCHS field hockey star and the 2001 Press Female Athlete of the Year. Long's starters include former Ocean City High School standouts Jenn Staab and Ali Stever.
Hanna visited Rutgers two weekends ago and committed afterwards. She had previously visited the University of Delaware, Monmouth University and Temple University.
"She (Long) was very excited to have me there in two years," Hanna said. "I saw Ali Stever while I was there but didn't see Jenn Staab. I didn't know (Long) previously, but she saw me play at the state championship and at a U.S. Field Hockey festival in Florida. She said that their two center-midfielders will graduate before I get there, but nothing is guaranteed. How much I play depends on how hard I work and how competitive I am with everyone there."
Long saw Hanna in her greatest field hockey moment so far, in a 1-0 win over Warren Hills Regional in the state Group III championship game on Nov. 16 at Toms River East. Hanna scored the only goal off a corner at the end of double-overtime to give the Red Raiders their second straight state title and the ninth in program history.
Hanna also scored the winning goal in a 1-0 state semifinal win over Allentown two days before the championship game. She finished the year with 21 goals and 15 assists, tied for the team lead in both.
Long and Ocean City coach Cory Terry were teammates on the Red Raiders' first three state championship teams, from 1997 to 1999.
"Meredith loved Kelly as a player, and she's excited to have her play there," Terry said. "Kelly is more of an attacking mid. She pretty much played right wing for half the year, and then we moved her all over. She has an attack player's mindset, which allowed her to be a big scorer on the team."
Rutgers was 9-9 in 2013 in Long's second season as head coach. Long's team, which also included Egg Harbor Township's Katie Champion and Southern Regional's Elyse Broderick, beat 19th ranked Albany 3-2 in the season opener and lost by one goal to three other ranked teams.
The Scarlet Knights will move from the Big East into the Big Ten this fall season.
"Knowing Meredith, I know she'll really want to challenge the players (about the move to the Big Ten)," Terry said. "It's a good fit for Kelly because she'll thrive off of that. She has the heart and determination. Kelly was challenged this year because she played a lot the year before. She came alive in the playoffs. Meredith got to witness that."
Now Hanna and fellow O.C. junior Lauren McNally, the team's other returning first-team Press All-Star, have both committed to a Division I school a year early. McNally committed in December to play for Penn State.
"I can definitely focus more on my classes and I don't have to stress about where to go," Hanna said. "I'll have something to look forward to after high school."
Terry added, "Committing early takes the pressure off of them. Kids already have enough, being in high school, and playing for Ocean City, and wanting to play at the next level."
Hanna plans to major in some kind of public policy, and plans to go to law school.
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