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Crusaders' Holak has strategy, drive

Bishop Eustace forward Moira Penza said it after the Crusaders won the NJSIAA Group 2 state field hockey championship on Nov. 14 in Toms River.

Bishop Eustace forward Moira Penza said it after the Crusaders won the NJSIAA Group 2 state field hockey championship on Nov. 14 in Toms River.

"Three times is the charm."

The trip to the state final had been the third in a row but the first that ended with a crown. And although Penza had scored one goal and assisted on another in a 2-1 victory over West Essex, she and her teammates knew that the driving force behind the win was their head coach, Krissy Holak.

Holak is The Inquirer's field hockey coach of the year in South Jersey.

Holak "is awesome," said Penza, a senior who led the team in scoring with 22 goals. "She keeps us motivated and focused. She has faith in our players, and she lets us know that.

"She has knowledge. She played Division I hockey at St. Joe's. . . . She is very strategic. She comes up with different formations and helps us to make them work. She helps us to understand them. So when she changes them during a game, we know what we're supposed to do and where we're supposed to go."

In short, Holak has the ability to make her players understand that which can be complicated.

Holak has a 94-29-7 record in six years at the helm since 2005, and the Crusaders have been to the state final four times. She knows the program because she was part of it as a player.

A 1992 Eustace graduate, Holak returned as an assistant to coach Alice Penza, mother of Moira, in 2002. Alice Penza and Holak had played for Jeanne Kline, the program's first coach, who led the Crusaders to a share of the Parochial B crown with Phillipsburg Catholic in 1982.

"I had a special feeling about this group in August," Holak said about the team after it won the state crown. "They played together as a unit [all season], and that was a unit win."

Holak added that the team returned to school in tip-top shape in August, focused and with "an unspoken goal." The Crusaders (20-4) went on to lose to Eastern twice, Camden Catholic, and Washington Township, all Olympic Conference teams.

However, there were high points as well - such as a 1-0 win over Shawnee for Holak's 100th career win, including earlier stops at Overbrook and Winslow Township.

Team depth, strength of schedule, and players following in the footsteps of older siblings all went into winning that state title, according to Holak. There were other factors.

"When your program is successful, kids want to be a part of it," Holak said. "My kids are not only academically strong, they're athletic as well. They can pick up [new] formations. They don't even flinch."

Coincidentally, an artificial turf field was installed at Eustace the same year that Holak became head coach, and that was a big factor in drawing good student-athletes and preparing the team for postseason play. Tournament games are all played on the faster, synthetic-grass fields.

Alice Penza, an assistant for the last five years, also links Holak's success to her passion for the sport, the time she puts into it, and the fact that she listens to her assistants - herself, Cheryl Naurath, Caitlin Smith, and Danielle Senior.

Three times may have been the charm, but more titles could be on the way.