West Windsor, N.J. – A heartbreaking 3-2 overtime defeat in the Region 19 championship game cannot dim the tremendous accomplishments of this year’s gifted women’s soccer team. With a final record of 7-2 in the region and 10-7-1 overall, the team has much to be proud of and many lessons to take way from the 2013 season.
According to Head Coach Michelle Ogborn-Haywood, the Vikings took their season to the very edge of a championship just like last year. “Another one ends on the turf at Ocean County College in the final,” she said.
Noting that while the outcome is not what the Vikings had hoped for, the third-year coach says she is still quite proud of her team. “Any time you make it to a regional final, you know you are doing something right.”
In addition to building players’ soccer skills, Ogborn-Haywood says one of her main goals is to build cohesiveness and respect. “When I first meet the players on the field – not in the office and not with their parents there – we start to form a bond from that very first pre-season practice.”
That bond starts with respect for the coaching staff. “The players learn that if you give respect, you will get it in return,” Ogborn-Haywood said. She notes that team members go on trips together and do team bonding exercises when they are playing on the road.
According to Ogborn-Haywood, the transformation of individual players into a team unit is quite amazing. “You can almost watch the transformation. Friendships are made and an understanding of the coaches’ expectations starts to click. Communication improves and the desire to play better as a team takes hold. Then we are ‘off and running toward the finish line,’ getting better as a whole,” she says.
This year’s team captains were sophomores Jackie Laurenti, Rachel Martinez and Taylor Wright. Ogborn-Haywood says they were a wonderful trio. “They led not only with strong ball skills, endurance and stamina, but also through positive motivation.”
She notes that each captain had her own special leadership qualities, a definite plus for the team. “The freshmen need someone to relate to – whether that’s aspiring to play like someone, approach the game with their kind of confidence, or just learn how to come out with a ‘give it all you’ve got’ mentality. These captains showed leadership in so many ways and our team benefitted for sure.”
Sophomore Katelyn Becker was also a standout. “She came in like a lamb and went out like a lion,” Ogborn-Haywood said. “She worked hard to improve and, like our captains, will most likely go on to play at a four-year school after Mercer.”
Two other sophomores expected to play at four-year colleges are Sarah Dintinger and Angela Marinos. Dintinger’s commitment was especially inspiring. According to Ogborn-Haywood, Dintinger had a lot of playing time during both her freshman and sophomore seasons. “She never scored a goal, but she never stopped trying. Then, with three minutes left in the Region 19 final, she scored the goal that tied the game and put us into overtime. She worked hard to improve her game.”
Marinos, who played two seasons of softball for Mercer and ended her career as the college’s all-time offensive leader in 2012, tried out for soccer this year. “Angela is a natural athlete. When we got in goalkeeper trouble and Jackie had to sit out two games, Angela stepped up to play goal. She played two games and posted two shut-outs,” Ogborn-Haywood said.
A particular display of the team’s strong bond played out in the second half of the season. “Rachel Martinez, whose father had been fighting cancer for months, came to me early in October. They were having a benefit for him, and it happened to fall on a game day. She was sorry she was going to miss the game. Instead, unbeknownst to her, I postponed the game, and we all dressed in full uniform, boarded the vans and went to the benefit,” Ogborn-Haywood recalls, noting they were met with a round of applause as they got off the bus in their yellow Mercer uniforms.
“It was better that any game could've possibly been,” she says.
Martinez and Angelica Buzgo were selected for the All-GSAC and All-Region First Team. Taylor Wright and Samantha Hirthler were selected for the Second Team.
Soccer alumna Erika Juricic joined the staff as an assistant coach this year. Ogborn-Haywood says she is a great addition. “Erika is young and very talented and can lead by example for these girls.” Also assisting was Mike DeAngelis.