Team captain Juliana Fernandez, senior, works with her teammates in a game against Red Bank Regional. Photo courtesy of SJVHS/Rich Prehart, Sr.
Team captain Juliana Fernandez, senior, works with her teammates in a game against Red Bank Regional. Photo courtesy of SJVHS/Rich Prehart, Sr.

Athletics are all about adjustments. Sometimes on the field, sometimes within the framework of a season.

Most of those tweaks are due to things going wrong. But every so often, it’s because things are going better than expected.

Take Amanda Westerweller, for example. The St. John Vianney field hockey coach entered the season with certain expectations, which have since morphed into higher hopes.  

“I’d say we are ahead of where I thought we would be,” said Westerweller, whose Holmdel-based team was 9-4 entering its Oct. 7 game at Henry Hudson. “We started this season a lot stronger than I was expecting and we had to adjust. We had to shift our frame to be higher than the original goal because they started so strongly with five wins right away.”

The Lancers returned ample talent from last season’s 10-3 squad, but with only two seniors on the roster, it seemed SJV might still be a year away from great things. The aforementioned hot start indicated the squad may be better than advertised, however, and could make deep runs in the Shore Conference and state tournaments.

“I told them they could be great,” Westerweller said. “It’s completely up to them what they want to do with the rest of the season. The goal is to go far in both of the tournaments. In field hockey you never really know what’s gonna happen on any given day. It could go to anybody. Whoever wants it more is going to win that day.

“So, I really think we could be kind of a sleeper surprise in the Shore tournament,” she continued. “In the states we got knocked out in the second round last year, and we hope to make it farther than that. We have Oak Knoll in our division, who is a force in the state. We got to meet them last year and see what they’re about. If we see them again, I’m hoping to improve on that.”

SJV has been led by midfielder Katarina Villa, one of 15 juniors on the team. Villa leads the Lancers with 23 goals and eight assists and has 40 career goals. She possesses a strong shot and great field awareness. As a team captain, she has also provided leadership on and off the field.

“She’s just a force in the field hockey community,” Westerweller said. “She is just a pleasure to watch, a pleasure to coach. Even though her stats are impressive she’s still a selfless player. She always goes for the right pass, she’s always positive to her teammates. If you ask anybody on the team, they all just really look up to her.”

One of Villa’s most underrated qualities is that on the rare occasion when she forfeits possession, she doesn’t give up on the play.

“If she loses the ball, she has that intensity that she always wants to tackle back and get it back,” the coach said. “A lot of girls lose the ball and go ‘Well it’s over now.’ But not Villa, she’s all over it.”

Other top scorers are forwards Maddie Zeto (10 goals, three assists), whose tenacity in the circle allows her to pick up a lot of hard-working goals, Fiona Drew (five goals, nine assists) and the improved Cat Schienvar (seven goals, eight assists).

“Cat really just blossomed this year,” Westerweller said. “Coming into this year she wasn’t finishing [her scoring opportunities]. She really dedicated herself in the offseason to getting better. She showed up this season a completely different player.”

Joining Villa in the midfield are Ava Falcone and Isabella Masso, while the defense consists of senior captain Juliana Fernandez, Abigail Venerick, Olivia Molitello and Kaitlyn Boyer. Taylor Schlein is in goal, backed up by Julia Anderson.

“Our defenders are the heartbeat of the team,” Westerweller said. “We play a defensive diamond, and from the top of the diamond back to the goalkeeper they are just tough to get by. “It really falls on the shoulders of Juliana Fernandez. She is a total leader back there and makes all the right decisions and has the trust of her teammates.

“Taylor is so quick between the pipes and so loud in her communication and directiveness toward the defense. I knew going into the season our goalies would be a strength for us and they’ve really been living up to my expectations for them.”

The players also continue to live up to their devotion to faith. As with every SJV team, a prayer is said prior to each game, and Westerweller noted that “Father Tom (the Reverend Thomas Walsh) comes to most of our home games and having him there gives the girls a lot of faith as well.”

The team is deeply involved in the school’s Catholic Athletes for Christ organization, and misses going out among the community due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“We used to go to the veterans’ home; now it’s more focused on collection and giving things other than our time,” Westerweller said. “I would love to get back to doing things in person. It’s team bonding and being a good person, all rolled into one.

“The girls love (CAC), it’s not like a chore for them,” she added. “They look forward to the meeting part of it, the Catholic part of it. Our school organizes each team leading a Mass. It hasn’t been our turn yet, but we’re excited for that.”  

Much in the same way Wetherweller is excited about her team.

“I have a lot of people very committed to the sport,” she said. “They play field hockey year round, and it’s really paying off for them. Just the way they show up for practice, the way they show up to the games, it’s been great. I love watching them.”

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Two other Diocese of Trenton high school field hockey teams are also enjoying nice seasons, as Notre Dame of Lawrenceville is 7-3, and St. Rose of Belmar is 7-2 and in first place in the Shore Conference’s B Central Division.

Sarah Ippolito leads the Irish with 11 goals and six assists, while Nicole Villalta-Barrantes has collected nine goals and two assists. Goalie Julianna Ross has made 61 saves and posted four shutouts.

The Purple Roses have gotten a team-high seven goals from Ashley Colombo, while Colleen Ragan (six goals, seven assists) and Taylor Szumloz (four goals, three assists) have helped pace a balanced attack.