Jackson Memorial field hockey team hopes to regain early-season form



The bus ride back home from Southern Regional High School was as subdued for Jackson Memorial High School’s field hockey team as its production in the Oct. 14 Shore Conference A South Division showdown.

After beating Southern, 1-0, early in the season, the Jaguars were held down in the second match, as Southern broke away from a 1-0 halftime lead for a 5-0 victory. A victory would have put Jackson Memorial in a commanding position for the division title.

Coach Jenna Blondina was also conspicuously silent when asked if there was anything positive she could take away from the game.

“I can’t find anything [good] to talk about this game or to talk about anybody who played well,” said Blondina, who often has been generous with praise for deserving players.

“They came out ready to play, and we weren’t ever ready to play,” added Blondina, whose team was knocked out of first place for the first time this season with only a few days left.

After going unbeaten in the conference into the second half of the season, Jackson Memorial lost for the third time to a team it beat earlier in the season. The Jaguars fell to Toms River High School South, 3-1, and Toms River High School North, 2-1, over the past week.

With two losses each, Southern and Toms River South leapfrogged over the Jaguars, and it’s a long shot that Jackson Memorial can pass both of them in the standings. For the Jaguars to get at least a piece of A South, Southern has to lose to Lacey Township High School and then beat Toms River South. Jackson Memorial (9-3 in A South) would have needed a win at Toms River High School East on Oct. 16 and another against Brick Township High School at home on Oct. 18 to stay in the running. Blondina believes the more important issue right now is if her team, with the maturity and experience of nine seniors on the roster, can emotionally and physically bounce back for the upcoming tournaments in order to regain its early-season form. The year started well for Jackson Memorial when it went unbeaten in a summer league and swept the games in its trip to Florida, which seemed to bond the team.

With school closed for Columbus Day, the Jackson Memorial players had a brisk morning practice and team breakfast before boarding the bus for Southern.

“At the beginning of the season, we were passing the ball well, and we’re not doing that at the end,” Blondina said. “To make a run, we have to start playing like a team again.”

With the Shore Conference Tournament pairings coming out on Oct. 15 and tournament play to begin on Oct. 21, as well as the NJSIAA state tournament to follow, Blondina said her players have to show her and themselves in the upcoming games that they’re ready to turn things around. Last year’s team won 11 games and lost in the second round of the state tournament to Pennsauken High School.

It means that Morgan Novak must be stubborn in goal, and Kayla Skodmin, Kara Molnar and defensive standout Rianna Jackson must start scoring again. It also means that Molnar has to control play well in the midfield, along with Brooke Weinstein, Kelsey Leibner and Jackson solidifying the defense in front of Novak, which they have done so well for most of a 10-3 season.

“I hope we can,” Blondina said in a cautious tone. “Every game has been a big game.”

Although Jackson Memorial needs help to surpass its third-place finish in A South last season, the rest of the season is in its own hands for the upcoming tournaments, where each team controls its own destiny.