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Rumson-Fair Haven girls’ lacrosse team wants more than just a winning streak

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From 1992 to 2004, De La Salle High School in California won 151 straight football games.

The longest winning streak in high school football history became the subject of books, Sports Illustrated features and even a 2014 movie, “When the Game Stands Tall.”

Rumson-Fair Haven High School has a similar winning streak in girls’ lacrosse. With its 11-10 victory over Red Bank Catholic High School on April 11, the Bulldogs won their 111th consecutive Shore Conference game.

The program’s streak has not generated any books, SI stories or Hollywood movies. But it has been the subject of countless local coverage, to the point where it defines the Bulldogs like the 151-game streak defined De La Salle.

But in 2019, Rumson-Fair Haven is striving to mark its season with something bigger than a conference winning streak.

Since the run started in 2013, the Bulldogs have won just one NJSIAA Group 2 championship, which came in 2016. That was also the program’s only NJSIAA Tournament of Champions appearance. The Bulldogs were eliminated in the first round of the Tournament of Champions by Summit High School, 10-4.

A ridiculously long conference winning streak is not a bad way to define your program. But state titles are better. That is basically Rumson-Fair Haven’s motto in 2019.

“We want to get back to the T of C and see what happens,” said Rumson-Fair Haven’s 16th-year coach, Amy O’Keefe.

“We dominate the Shore,” said senior captain and midfielder, Cassie James. “Now we’re branching out.”

Over the offseason, the Shore Conference changed its rule about division play. In 2019, Shore Conference girls’ lacrosse teams would only have to schedule their division opponents once, not twice.

This opened up a whole slate of dates for O’Keefe to schedule strong New Jersey programs from outside the Shore Conference.

So O’Keefe did what a lot of good coaches do: she front loaded her schedule with challenging, unfamiliar opponents. The goal was to toughen the Bulldogs early so they could get better late.

Only no one told the players that they were supposed to take their lumps against the non-Shore Conference squads.

In the season’s first couple weeks, Rumson-Fair Haven beat Rancocas Valley Regional High School, 12-5, Mountain Lakes High School, 11-3, and Morristown High School, 18-6.

The Bulldogs were ready for O’Keefe’s challenge. James and her four fellow senior captains, attack Kerry Tuorto, goaltender Sophia Bocklage and defenders Avery O’Connell and Grace Jamin, prepared their teammates all offseason for the challenging schedule.

On May 29, 2018, Rumson-Fair Haven fell to Haddonfield Memorial High School, 12-9, in the Group 2 state semifinals. Just days after the loss, the captains got together and created an offseason training program.

The Bulldogs would train four days a week and work on stick skills and conditioning, the two key characteristics of successful lacrosse teams, according to James. Rumson’s senior council even concocted a series of running drills fit for a Nick Saban collegiate football team.

First there was the “Gauntlet,” where the Bulldogs ran a mile, an 800-meter race and a 400-meter race, all in a row, three times over. Then there was the “Manchester,” in which they sprinted 100 meters and then jogged back, 18 times over.

Rumson-Fair Haven did all this for nine months straight, leading up its first practice in early March.

“We came in in the best shape we’ve ever been in, and more focused,” James said.

“It has showed tremendously on the field,” she added. 

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