Christmas in October?

It may as well have been on Wednesday night at Owl Hollow, where the excitement of opening night, coupled with the long-awaited return to play, produced plenty of laughs and smiles on the field and both sidelines.

Nevertheless, it was St. Joseph Hill which had the last laugh — tallying all four of its goals in the second half of the Hilltoppers’ shutout win over St. Joseph-by-the-Sea in the CHSAA opener, which had previously been delayed due to Covid-19 concerns.

“It was exciting,” said Hill coach Rob Libertelli. “After last season, the girls wanted to get back as fast as they could.

“We’re just happy to get the season in,” he added. “It was long-awaited.”

The heightened anticipation, combined with the lack of preparation after schools were only afforded 10 days of practice time prior to game day, appeared to take its toll on Hill in a scoreless first half.

“Maybe nerves,” admitted Libertelli, whose team was also missing two starters due to injury. “The first game, and going straight from 10 days of practice right into a game [took its toll.”

Following the half time break, Hill emerged looking like a different team — netting their first goal, the first of sophomore Natalie Bala’s three scores on the day, early in the second stanza.

Libertelli demanded more of his team at the break.

“I told them to play their game,” he said. “They were dragging, I knew they could do better.

“They came out slow and timid, I told them to use their skills,” added Libertelli.

Bala took the message to heart — reeling off three straight scores, the final two coming within just a few minutes of each other.

“She’s an asset to the team,” said Libertelli. “Once she got that first one, it makes the rest of the game easier.

“We calmed down and controlled the ball,” he added. “We’re a very young team, but once they started playing their game they dominated the field against a very good St. Joseph-by-the-Sea team.”

SPT Hill

St. Joseph Hill coach Rob Libertelli addresses his team after Wednesday’s 4-0 opening night win over St. Joseph-by-the-Sea.

For Bala, who did not play as a freshman while playing for a travel team, the high school game is enjoyable.

“I was just excited, I like this pace and playing with friends…it’s fun,” said Bala. “I’ve been going to school with these girls for two years, it feels good and it’s a good experience.

“My first goal I just shot and hoped for the best,” she admitted. “After that I just kept shooting more.”

Jamie Murray capped the scoring late in the game, while Victoria Terranova, Genevieve Burke, Ava Tafuri, and Charlotte Tama held down the back end on defense.

Juliana Castellano piled up 12 saves in goal.

Hill turns its attention to Friday’s date with the Notre Dame School, back at Owl Hollow.

Libertelli will be looking for further improvement as the campaign wages on.

“We want to be more cohesive as a team, from beginning to end,” he concluded.

SPT Hill

Action from Wednesday’s game at Owl Hollow.