A New Season and a New Challenge
Debbie Schwartz is only a month or so removed from a softball season that saw her Donovan Catholic Griffins fall just one game short of winning the NJSIAA Non-Public A title, dropping a 2-1 heartbreaker to top-ranked Immaculate Heart in the final.
Despite that disappointment, Donovan’s 25-6 season included its first sectional title since 1988 along with a share of the Class B South division crown. Since the program will lose only one senior to graduation (Emily Zuhowski) it would be safe to assume Schwartz and longtime assistant coach Dawn Dziedzic are already working on next season. They are, but next season has actually already begun because the two are getting ready to launch varsity field hockey at the school on Hooper Avenue in Toms River.
A little background here: Schwartz and Dziedzic guided the softball program at Toms River High School East for 25 years, winning over 500 games and many championships. A policy change that prohibits administrators from coaching meant Schwartz had to give up softball as she is the Supervisor of Instruction for Health and Physical Education in the Toms River District. In a rather strange twist of fate the softball coach at Donovan Catholic at that time succeeded Schwartz at East and Debbie then moved across town to the Griffins. In just two seasons the dynamic duo of Schwartz & Dziedzic have built a powerhouse at Donovan, and the future looks very bright.
So back to the field hockey part of the story. Last fall Athletic Director Joe Gomulka proposed to school officials that the Griffins add the sport after receiving interest from current students and was given the go-ahead. He knew they had space available near the football field on the school’s campus and the school administration agreed to provide a new field, so the next step was to hire a coach, or in this case coaches. Schwartz and Dziedzic agreed to become co-head coaches and in just two months the program will make its debut when they visit Pinelands on Saturday, September 10.
The two are no strangers to the sport. Schwartz was the head coach at Toms River East for six years and during that time guided the Raiders to a Shore Conference Tournament championship and a divisional title. While she would step down to devote more time to her family, Dziedzic remained as an assistant with the program for nearly 20 years. Now that they’ve moved to Donovan Catholic they were a natural choice for Gomulka during his search for coaches. Schwartz, who was an All-American during her playing days, got to follow the sport from a different perspective after coaching.
“My daughter, Jackie, played field hockey, more importantly she played travel field hockey so I got to travel all over the country to watch her play," Schwartz said. "I also became a field hockey official at the same time.”
Clearly starting a program from scratch is a challenge. So far, 16 girls have signed up to play this fall and they expect to add a few incoming freshman. The Griffins will compete as an independent in the Shore Conference this season and play a varsity-only schedule. Schwartz understands the upcoming season will be a learning experience and her main goals are instilling passion among her players and trying to get everyone on the same page, understanding that some of the girls have never played before.
“I have a passion for the sport and can’t get enough of it” Schwartz said.
The first ever Donovan Catholic field hockey team will find that out very quickly.