As the final seconds ticked down on the 2021 field hockey season, Cecilia Mendez hustled even harder.
The ball went out of bounds, and the score was out of reach, but Mendez and the rest of Camden Catholic’s seniors wanted to get the play started back up. Just one more pass. One more shot. One more memory.
It didn’t matter that the Irish were about to lose the Non-Public State Championship by a 4-1 score to perennial power Oak Knoll Nov. 13 at Bordentown High School. The players, especially the seniors, just wanted a few extra moments to play the sport they love next to the people they adore.
“Playing on this team has been one of the best parts of my life,” said Mendez, a senior defender who transferred from Gloucester City prior to her junior year. “Every one of these girls is just amazing.”
Mendez recalled the anxiety of switching high schools but was almost immediately at ease after a conversation with teammate Emily Gallagher in health class.
“I remember it was the first day of school and she asked me if I was playing on the field hockey team,” Mendez said. “And ever since then, we’ve been really close. I’m sad to know I’m not going to be able to play with her anymore.”
Gallagher recently committed to lay at the University of Scranton while Mendez is looking to pursue a psychology degree at either Penn State or West Chester University. Goaltender Leah DiRenzo will head off to swat shots at St. Joseph’s University. Gianna Miller will leave to play for Liberty University, and Payton Koss will part ways to suit up for Montclair State University. The list goes on for the 13 seniors listed on the roster, but the bonds they built on the field hockey turf will anchor years of friendship, they said.
“This team is like a second family,” Gallagher said. “We win and lose together, and we’re united as a team. No matter what, we have each other’s back. That’s the pure definition of a family, and that’s what I get here at Camden Catholic.”
The Irish pieced together a 21-3 season, which included an Olympic Conference National Division title and a South Jersey Non-Public championship. They even held a brief lead in the state championship game thanks to a blast from junior Olivia Bent-Cole, who connected on her team-leading 46th goal of the season to put the Irish up 1-0. But four straight goals by the Royals sealed Camden Catholic’s fate, no matter how hard they pushed.
“I didn’t want to leave the field with any regrets,” Bent-Cole said.
After the game, the ice packs came out. Reflecting on the team, Mendez said, “Everyone has your back on this team. … I’ve become so close with all of them. All our personalities are different in school, but on the field, together, we are all the same.”
“I’m so proud of how far we came,” she added. “It was a really good season, and I just didn’t want it to end.”
SOURCE THE CATHOLIC STAR HERALD