Renee Phelps has been selected The Inquirer's South Jersey Field Hockey Coach of the Year after guiding Shawnee to its 11th state title and first Tournament of Champions crown in just her second season at the helm.
It would be difficult to find an individual more appreciative of the honor or for the chance to direct the Renegades, whose wealth of experience - the senior-laden roster included several of the top talents in the area - made it possible to accomplish all of her goals.
"I was handed a gift, I was very blessed with the program I was given," Phelps said.
"Shawnee has always been very competitive, always has had high standards. I'm always looking for ways to make things better, and this group of girls really wanted it."
Shawnee finished the season 23-2, traversing through the tough Group 3 sectional and state brackets.
"Our girls dug deep," Phelps said, "worked together and fought some really hard battles."
Senior Jess Buckingham, who is headed to Cornell, gave her coach credit for preparing the Renegades for the long haul.
"Coach Phelps told us from the beginning of the season that we were going to go all the way," Buckingham said. "She had complete confidence in us and knew how to motivate us. She did everything she could to get us ready, and by the time the state championship and the Tournament of Champions rolled around, we were completely ready. . . . We owe it all to her."
Phelps said that she knew anything was possible for this squad if the players bought into her concept.
"I said all along that if we played Shawnee field hockey, we'd be unstoppable," she said. "I really believed that, and I think the girls believed it, too."
Michelle Arfuso's magnificent stretch run, which saw her score a dozen goals over Lenape's final eight games, allowed her to stand out among an incredibly talented group of athletes in South Jersey this season.
Among others who warrant mention are Camden Catholic senior Michelle Vittese, whose stick-handling mastery produced breathtaking end-to-end runs, and Kingsway senior goalie Brittany Dipper, who was almost impossible to beat on straight-on shots.
South Jersey promises to be well-stocked with talent next season as well. Some players to keep an eye on include Glassboro junior Ashlee Willis, Eastern sophomore Kelsey Mitchell, and St. Joseph freshman Megan DeMarco.