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VIDEO, PHOTO GALLERY: Massive turnaround for LCM field hockey

  • Lower Cape May's Julia Hinker (right) beats Holy Spirit's Mia Ruzzo to the ball during Wednesday's field hockey game.
  • Lower Cape May midfielder Carina Raymond smacks the ball past a Holy Spirit player.
  • Lower Cape May's Reese Bracken carries the ball down the field.
  • Lower Cape May's Leah Jones digs the ball away from her feet at the side of the Holy Spirit cage.
  • Lower Cape May's Julia Hinker pressures a Holy Spirit back.
  • Lower Cape May's Katya Simonsen tries to drag a pass further into the scoring circle.
  • Lower Cape May's Reese Bracken maneuvers into the scoring circle.
  • Lower Cape May's Emma Stango battles with a Holy Spirit player.
  • Lower Cape May's Maya Critchfield uses her backhand to retain possession.
  • Lower Cape May's Eden Brojakowski (right) battles with Holy Spirit's Kelly Walsh.

ERMA – The Lower Cape May Regional High School field hockey team has put last season’s struggles behind them in emphatic fashion.

The Lady Tigers, winners of just one contest in 2016, won for the fifth time in their first six games Wednesday with a dominating 4-0 victory over Holy Spirit.

A few factors have contributed to the team’s rise. More experience and better refined skills are certainly two of them. But Lower coach Anne Bracken points to one simple thing.

“It’s teamwork,” she said. “That’s what we’re focusing on this year. Last year we had some skilled players but it didn’t work out for us. More than anything, it’s teamwork. That’s the biggest difference from last year. The girls are really pulling for each other.”

Lower earned a signature victory last week, beating county rival Middle Township, the defending South Jersey Group I champion. It was Lower’s first win over Middle in 10 tries.

“We were all on cloud nine after the game,” Bracken said. “It was a good game. Middle played hard and they always have skilled players on the team. But we did a good job with all our matchups in the game.”

Despite the turnaround, Lower is a rather young team. The lone seniors are defender Jess Alexander, midfielder Paige Golden and forward Emma Stango, who leads the club with seven goals.

“A lot of our success has to do with our mindset this year,” said Golden, a co-captain along with the other two seniors. “Last year it seemed like we were always worrying about the game next week or the game later in the week. This year we’re taking it day by day and staying in the moment and when we do make mistakes we’re not dwelling on them. We’re coming together and talking it out and moving forward and trying not to let it happen again.

“We worked hard last year but unfortunately it didn’t pay off. We’ve worked twice as hard so far this year and it’s great that we’ve been rewarded with wins. It makes the attitude and the positivity around our team even better.”

Bracken was asked to single out a few of the team’s top players. Without hesitating, she said, “I couldn’t even name a few. Every single player on that field has made a difference, from our goalie to the defense to the midfield and the forwards. Even the subs. It’s been every single player.”

In addition to the three seniors, other contributors include juniors Julia Hinker (MF), Leah Jones (F), Andrea McVay (D), Cecilie Reeb (MF), Kayleigh Sandman (F) and Katya Simonsen (F) and sophomores Eden Brojakowski (D), Julia Cook (MF), Makayla Huber (GK), Carina Raymond (MF) and Reese Bracken (MF), the daughter of the head coach.

Lower’s only defeat to date was a 3-1 loss to perennial Cape-Atlantic National Conference power St. Joseph earlier this week.

“One of our goals was to be competitive in every game,” Bracken said. “Last year there were certainly games we played where we weren’t at all. St. Joe is a really, really talented team. It was a good game for us. At least we were competitive with a team like that. We were really happy with that.”

To put it simply, this season has been much more rewarding so far.

“It’s great because our reputation wasn’t the best after last year because of our record,” Golden said. “It’s great to show up at the field and surprise teams and come out on top.”

Reeb scored twice and Jones and Bracken added goals for Lower in the win over the Spartans. Huber recorded her fourth shutout of the season.

— Brian Cunniff