Glory Days: DePaul Catholic 1982 Field Hockey

Photo credit: 1983 DePaul Catholic High School yearbook

By Steve Sears

Does “Miracle on Ice” sound familiar? It should. It became the statement that defined the 1980 Gold medal winning United States ice hockey team at the Lake Placid-held Winter Olympics.

Does “Miracle on Turf” ring a bell? It may in Wayne, and perhaps within the halls of DePaul Catholic High School. Parents of the members of the 1982 DePaul Catholic girl’s field hockey team used the term to describe the Spartans upset 2 -1 victory over Absecon’s Holy Spirit High School in the Parochial A State title game.

“I’m really proud of these kids,” says head coach, Paula Lasalandra, regarding the 1982 squad. “They went down there (to Lawrenceville, where the title game was held) with the attitude that they were going to win, and they did.” Holy Spirit had scored first for an early advantage, but then the Spartans in the second half tallied twice, that last goal coming with less than two minutes left on the clock.

DePaul Catholic was a good mix of upper and underclassmen, and some of the players were new to the sport of field hockey, while powerful Holy Spirit was one of the state’s top ranked teams heading into the championship game. No one gave the Spartans a chance, no one believed they could win. “I don’t think anybody gave us a chance down there, to be honest with you,” Lasalandra remembers. “We were playing a team that was, I think, undefeated, and they had a great record. I remember it said in the the paper before the game that it was great respect for our team just to show up and play.”

“And then when we won, and everybody was shocked – including Holy Spirit.”

There was no Parochial A Sectional final game because no other teams qualified. Therefore, the Spartans had to defeat a tough West Milford team that had defeated them earlier in the season, just to qualify with a .500 record and be able to face Holy Spirit in the state final. They won that conference game against West Milford, sat at .500, and were declared North Sectional State Champions.

Holy Spirit was next.

Michele Merlino was a sophomore on the 1982 team. She after high school went to Ball State University on a field hockey scholarship. “We beat West Milford,” she says, “and then we traveled to Lawrenceville and beat Holy Spirit of Absecon. In that game, I know that me and Tracy Narwid scored goals. She was a freshman that year.”

“Michele was such a talented player,” Lasalandra says, “and Tracy was just an unbelievable athlete.” DePaul Catholic, the underdog, was loaded with players that hungered to win. Charissa Murray was a junior that season, and senior Jessica Biamonte was captain, as was goalie, Maggie Tarpey. Kim Ryan was a captain as well, and she and another senior, Laura Groppo, were steady performers along with sophomores Giselle Chapman, and twins Margie and Mia Faust.

“Tarpey was incredible that game,” Lasalandra recalls of the Holy Spirit contest. “That was 40 years ago, and I don’t remember how many saves she had, but she made some of the most unbelievable saves that game.”

“It was the first time we had ever won the states,” Merlino says. “I remember we had great camaraderie with our teammates, and we all worked really hard. I think it was one of the best field hockey teams that had ever come out of DePaul. I remember that we won the states and were ecstatic, because that’s your goal for any season, to go as far as you can.”

“They just cared for each other so much,” adds Lasalandra. “And that was such a big deal.” She also credits having assistant coach, Sue Liddy, around with her infectious spirit. “She was wonderful.”

‘They just weren’t such great kids,” Lasalandra says. “They had a great attitude. They just refused to lose that day.”

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