NEWTON _ Switch headbands midway through the season?
Emily Weiss and Hannah Ervey didn't consider it. As far as they're concerned, there's magic in the ones they've worn every game this fall while playing for the Newton field hockey team.
Weiss has been known to take her superstitions to the limit, often sleeping with her stick. Jordan Pavlishin, who recently served as homecoming queen, has her ritual, too, going stretches without washing her socks.
Maybe there is something to those little quirks... The Braves, who have been diligent in adhering to those habits, have ventured deep into the state tournament, repeating as North Jersey Section 1, Group I champions and advancing to the Group I semifinals.
Newton, seeking its first berth in a state title game in 31 years, will clash with Shore Regional on Wednesday, Nov. 11 at A.L. Johnson Regional at 6 p.m.
"We're motivated and ready," said Weiss, the senior forward who scored the lone goal when the Braves defeated Pompton Lakes for top sectional honors. "We've wanted to play Shore again since last season. We're going to play hard. We're all friends and really wanted this."
According to Newton coach Lisa Bechtel, her players began talking about a rematch with the Monmouth County powerhouse the day after being shut out, 2-0. With seven starters returning, the odds of a rematch seemed pretty good.
"This has been the vision and goal since the beginning of the season," Bechtel said. "The girls wanted another shot at Shore Regional. This group has a great work ethic. They have positive attitudes. They're exceptional young ladies."
The Braves' record - 18-1-2 - is evidence of the roll they've been on. They've had their share of adversity, battling through injuries to key players. At times, two or three girls were sidelined but they pushed on.
What will be different about this year's game versus Shore Regional?
"We were content and happy after winning the sectional title," Pavlishin said. "We kept hearing how good Shore was and we psyched ourselves out. We believe we have a good chance now. We can go all the way."
Natalie Rivas, a junior forward, has been a reliable scorer, notching 22 goals. Rivas and her teammates are focused on their word of the year, which is "united."
"We really are unified," Rivas said. "Many of the starters played recreation field hockey together in Green Township and Independence. We've become very close. We mix together well. Last year was a surprise. Now we want more."
The emergence of Rivas as a dominant offensive threat has been a boon for Newton.
"Natalie has doubled her goals," Bechtel said. "She's hungry, aggressive and has a nose for the goal. She has a great supporting cast. Natalie works especially well with Niki Rizzo and Kate Barbato."
Weiss and her sister, Olivia, are additional threats to score. Ervey, a senior who aspires to be a doctor, anchors the midfield along with Brittany Schumann and Rizzo. For defense, the Braves look to Pavlishin, Emma Orabone and Jordan Coiro. Katie O'Brien guards the goalcage. O'Brien engages in a superstition as well - the defenders hit her pads and helmet with their sticks before taking their spots.
"Doing the same things every game prepares us," O'Brien said. "They get us in the zone."
Newton, seeking its first state championship, has found repetition in back-to-back sectional titles, the program's ninth and 10th. Perhaps it will be holding a trophy aloft on Saturday.
At practice on Monday night, Bechtel reminded her players "Beat them to the ball and beat them on the board." En route to the sectional championship, the Braves were inspired by a quote made famous by legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden: "Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character."
"We've been this far before and want to go farther," Ervey said. "We know what to expect."
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