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Women's Soccer Team Makes
Major Strides to Reach Region 19 Semis


West Windsor, N.J. - A 7-12-1 record might not sound like a year of great achievement, but there is much behind those numbers that adds up to a stellar first season for women's soccer coach Michelle Ogborn-Haywood and her players. The Vikings had a rocky start - 0-7-1 in their first eight games - as team members adjusted to a new coach, suffered some major injuries, and tried to mesh a small group of returning sophomores with many freshmen faces.

Then, the turnaround began. On Sept. 29, the Vikings trounced Camden County College 8-0, and followed that game with another Region 19 win, 2-1, against Lackawanna on Oct. 2. Topping Sussex 2-0 on Oct. 8, Mercer suddenly found itself 3-3 in NJCAA Region 19 play.

By season's end, the Vikings had advanced all the way to the Region 19 semifinal game, beating Morris CC 2-1 in the quarterfinal Oct. 22 before losing 1-0 to an almost unbeaten Burlington squad Oct. 25. Two of the team's late season losses came in overtime.

Team work proved key to the Vikings' success this season.
Ogborn-Haywood notes that the entire season was a work in progress -- for her and the team -- as the coaching staff made changes after each game to try to find the best fit for each player's talents. A series of injuries among starters complicated the process, she notes, but that did not diminish the team's will to win.
"We held meetings where players could watch film and start to visualize what I was asking them to do, rather than just hearing me say it day in and day out," Ogborn-Haywood said. "In my experience as an athlete, it's easier to correct faults by seeing the problems rather than just hearing about them. I believe the film nights helped."

Ogborn-Haywood also continued to work with her players to create a sense of family that she believes is essential to successful women's teams. In addition to their time on the field, in the weight room and in the pool, "we enjoyed team dinners hosted by some of the parents, did a community service project, traveled together, laughed and cried together," she says.

According to Ogborn-Haywood, the players' athletic and emotional growth started producing wins. "Everything clicked. We got some key players back and added a few more who were a huge help."

Versatility also made a big difference. "At least half of the girls could make solid contributions anywhere on the field, including both offense and defense. To have that option makes a team so much stronger," she says.

Ogborn-Haywood refuses to single out any one player as the key to the Vikings' success. "So many players contributed - certain girls in certain games made the difference. Our strength came from the bonds and integrity of the entire team."

Three Vikings earned All-Region 19 Honors. Irene Calabria Nuevo and Samantha Biondi (Steinert High) were both named to the First Team All-Region 19. Chelsea Pitonyak (Steinert High) was named to the Second Team All-Region 19. Calabria Nuevo and Biondi were also chosen to the Garden State Athletic Conference First Team.

Ogborn-Haywood was assisted by Mike DeAngelis, Bobby Gioscio and Nicole Hover.

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