A half-dozen South Jersey field hockey teams Thursday are scheduled to compete in the state group semifinals at three sites.
State finals are set for Sunday at Toms River East.
Eastern (22-2), the South Jersey Group 4 champion, is to play Freehold Township (16-5-4), the Central 4 winner, at 2 p.m. at Shawnee.
Ocean City (20-1), winner of South 3, will play Central 3 champ Wall Township (18-2-1) at 2 p.m. at Neptune High.
South 2 titlist Bishop Eustace (16-2-3) is set for Central 2 winner West Deptford (19-1-1) at 4 p.m. at Eustace, and Schalick (16-4-1), the South 1 champ, will clash with Holy Cross (15-4-2), the Central 1 crown holder, 6 p.m. at the same site.
Eastern is a heavy favorite to upend Freehold, which won its first sectional title by beating Lenape, 3-1, on goals by Allie Miller and saves by goaltender Liz Stankiewicz. Eastern center forward Kelsey Mitchell, New Jersey's all-time leading scorer with 159 career goals, leads all South Jersey scorers this season with 57 goals. The Vikings are eyeing an 11th consecutive state crown. Eastern has 17 shutouts with sophomore Alana Barry in the cage.
Ocean City has a score to settle with Wall, which eliminated the Red Raiders, 2-1, last year in the state Group 3 semifinal. Wall demonstrated resilience against Moorestown on Tuesday in the sectional final by overcoming a 1-0 deficit, tying the score and winning the game in a penalty-stroke round on a goal by Rachel Clayton.
Ocean City on Tuesday blanked Kingsway, 2-0, on a pair of goals by Colleen Slaughter and the netminding of Natalie Hunter to win its ninth overall sectional title.
Maryland-bound Hunter tied the school's career record of 53 shutouts set by Devon Seifert in 2007. Slaughter has 49 goals on the season and is the second-leading scorer in the area. Ocean City has 15 shutouts.
Bishop Eustace has home-field advantage against West Deptford, and the Crusaders are ranked higher by the Inquirer at No. 4. Those are two additional reasons for No. 5 West Deptford to play hard in the Central 2 state semi in order to advance to the big dance at Toms River East.
Eustace also has big-game experience on its side. The Crusaders were state group 2 runners-up last season. With 14 letter-winners from that team on this year's squad, including goalie Megan Comunale and scorer Elsie DiDonato (27 goals), Eustace will be a formidable opponent. But the Eagles are ready with Jamie Robinson, one of the top scorers in South Jersey with 36 goals and Brooke Heininger in net.
Spearheading the Holy Cross attack has been senior forward Allie Jillons, who leads the team with 25 goals. Kate Cusack has been steady in the net, where the Lancers have nine shutouts.
Schalick's appearance in the state Group 1 semi is a surprise. Coach Anne Marie Mercado's goal at the beginning of the season was to go .500 and make the playoffs with her young talent. The Cougars have a solid core of midfielders, and sophomore forward Joyce Perry leads the team in scoring with 29 goals. Goalie Ellen Boring has 13 shutouts.
Clearview senior midfielder Shannon McCardell, a two-year varsity starter, has made an oral commitment to attend Hofstra University on a scholarship to play field hockey.