Jenna Marie Colicchia doesn’t give pep talks. She gives pep readings.
Hey, whatever works.
The Robbinsville High field hockey coach is a voracious reader, especially of books based on inspiring athletes.
“I love those books,” she said. “They really get me.”
Colicchia has turned players on to reading for their own individual gain and, during the recently completed season in which the Ravens finished 15-5 and reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II finals, she pulled one out to address the entire team.
Robbinsville had just dropped a 5-3 decision to Princeton Day School in a somewhat listless regular-season finale. It was the Ravens second straight loss, and their fourth in eight games after starting the season 9-0. The coach pulled out Jon Gordon’s “The Power of Positive Leadership,” a book about running a marathon.
“It talked about how people mostly give up in the 20th mile,” Colicchia said. “I said, ‘Right here was our 20th mile. You’re in the 20th mile, you’re either gonna pick it up and find that passion and figure out what’s gonna drive you to the end of the season, or you’re gonna fall apart.”
The Ravens responded with two straight wins in the CJ III tournament before dropping a 5-0 decision to talented Seneca.
The book worked.
“That was something that stuck with us to the very end of the season,” senior midfielder Megan Testa said. “It presented us with a decision: whether we wanted to quit and simply be done or push forward through possibly more hardships and fight. After that, there was never a question about someone wanting to be at practice or wanting to receive the ball—there no longer was doubt about anyone’s desire to play. She sparked a fire in us and we carried it until the last second of our final game against Seneca.”
The season capped a four-year run of 54-13-4 for Testa and her senior teammates: Araba Aikins, Andrea Pintimalli, Riley Tuffy, Daniela Porchetta and Laura Redler. They came into the program when Colicchia took over after having never played field hockey.
“It was a crazy four years,” said the former College of New Jersey lacrosse standout. “I played soccer, basketball and lacrosse, when they told me they wanted me to coach field hockey, I was like, ‘Holy cow, what am I gonna do?’ They said, ‘We need a head coach.’ These girls have had so many coaches come in and out. That first senior class I had, had four coaches. I said, ‘This is ridiculous.’”
Thus, she took the reins and learned the game.
“I kind of liked the challenge of it, coming in and learning a new sport was fun for me,” Colicchia said. “But to see it grow over the time I’ve been there, the program is exactly where I want it to be. The basis of it is on what kind of people are in it. I think building character is what makes the skill show up better.”
That was a philosophy not lost on the players. Testa was impressed by her coach’s growing knowledge of the game but, more importantly, her desire to make better people.
“Coming into the program, I don’t think anyone would’ve guessed Colicchia never played before,” Testa said. “From the start, I could see her dedication and love for the team extended farther than the necessary commitment of a coach. She’s learned a lot about field hockey through the years, but as a coach she has always been a great influence on us as both players and people.
“Although her familiarity with the sport grew immensely, her priority has always been teaching us how to be good people on and off the field. With these years of experience under her belt, I believe now, more than ever, the program will continue to thrive in her hands and I look forward to seeing their future successes next year.”
That being said, Testa was certainly happy to be part of this year’s success. Robbinsville featured one of the top talents in the Colonial Valley Conference in junior Shea Walsh, who collected 31 goals and 11 assists, and scored the overtime game-winner against Manasquan in the CJ II semifinals.
Junior Grace Maslak (18 goals, 6 assists) and sophomore Hannah Shea (6 G, 2 A) were productive goal scorers up front, while Tuffy and sophomore twin sisters Sonia and Karina Bharatiya (4 G, 1 A) rotated at drop midfield.
“Riley Tuffy was a big surprise,” Colicchia said. “She played defense all three years and this year played well at drop forward.”
The outstanding midfield consisted of Aikins, Testa (8 G, 11 A) and junior Amanda Allen (10 G, 13 A), while the defense was held down by Pintimalli and junior Hannah James. Redler and junior Olivia Moser shared time in goal.
“My goalies were fantastic,” Colicchia said. “Usually you would think people compete for the spot, but those two are the most unselfish players. I spoke to them about who was gonna be playing and they both always agreed. It was really nice they got along so well together. They’re both always ready, it was just a matter of who was ready for the game the most.”
Colicchia felt the season highlights were overtime wins over Manasquan and Notre Dame, along with defeating Hopewell Valley in the first round of the state tournament after losing to the Bulldogs during the regular season. She wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the HoVal win.
“Playing Hopewell the second time was definitely a highlight,” Testa said. “Throughout the whole game we were in it, backing each other up and pushing forward. The team definitely clicked that game and everyone was so excited to move on in states. It really was a great game on both sides, but we played unified and worked hard to finish strong.”
In looking back on the season, Colicchia lauded the play of Walsh, Allen and James. She noted that Walsh was a clutch scorer who always came up with the big goal; Allen was the girl that everyone on the team looked up to; and James was a defender who displayed confidence and in turn, made her teammates feel confident.
The coach will miss her seniors, saying, “Losing Megan Testa is a big one, she scored some key goals this year and was very solid all over the field. Andrea Pintimalli was a solid, sound defender; and Laura has been a goalie in both sports (also lacrosse) for four years. I have someone ready to fill all those spots but I think it’s more that we’re going to miss the people they are. You can find skill, but you can’t always find certain (quality) people.”
Testa got everything she wanted out of her final campaign, which she enjoyed immensely because of those character individuals Colicchia spoke of.
“As a senior, I really needed to take advantage of all the time I had left on the field, in both practice and games,” she said. “The thing I enjoyed most about this season is my team. The amount of time we spend together in-season presents the opportunity for some differences in opinion or fighting. After all, six days a week we see each other for two-and-a-half hours. But honestly, we’ve never had an issue.
“Even during our hardest times, we were always picking each other up and depending on one another. During games I would look around at my teammates and just felt so happy I had the chance to play with each of them because they really are a special group.”
And that makes for a successful season no matter what the won-lost record.