FELTON – Field hockey season comes in the fall, harvest time on the 2,000 acres Dale Bishop tills near Sandtown, about 15 minutes from Lake Forest High School.
But he tries to make it to most of Ali Bishop’s games, because he’s like everybody else. He wants to see what the Spartans’ spectacular goalkeeper will do next.
“I don’t know where she gets it from, but she’s got a drive that is unbelievable,” Dale Bishop said of his daughter. “Everything she goes to do, she wants to be a perfectionist at it.”
Ali Bishop hasn’t been perfect this fall, but it seems that way to many of her opponents. The senior has been a force in front of the cage, keeping the young Spartans close even when they are outshot by a wide margin.
“Their goalie keeps them in every single game. She’s good,” Delmar coach Jodi Hollamon said. “If they didn’t have her, there’s no doubt they would be a different team.”
Hollamon’s second-ranked Wildcats saw that first hand on Sept. 24. Delmar outshot Lake Forest 23-6, but Bishop made 21 saves in a 2-2 tie.
“She covers one side to the other,” Hollamon said. “Any time that you’re pounding a goalkeeper and they’re coming up with save after save after save, it is frustrating. You expect a goalkeeper to make a couple of mistakes, and she doesn’t make many.”
It’s a challenge Ali has relished since she first went into the goal in fifth grade.
“I just love the fact that I can help my team be the last resort and be the backbone, help my team however I can,” she said. “I love being able to move around in it and have that be my thing, my cage.”
The Spartans are 7-4-2 with two games remaining, and coach Michele Tucker knows it will be a sad day when the season ends and she can’t rely on Ali anymore.
“It’s going to be very hard for me at the end of the season to let her graduate,” Tucker said. “We’ve had that conversation before. Not only is she an amazing goalkeeper, she is an amazing young woman. She is selfless. Her team comes first.”
She makes Tucker’s job easier by directing the defense in front of her as the Spartans do their best to keep the ball from getting through.
“She is the eyes and the ears on our field. What the coaching staff sees on the field, she sees on the field,” the coach said. “She’s telling them what we would be saying to them, and she does it in such a way that she has the respect of her peers.”
Dale Bishop and his wife, Donna, grow corn, soybeans, wheat and barley. They also have a custom business spreading fertilizers and spraying chemicals for other farmers, and all three daughters – Megan, Logan and Ali – have spent plenty of time working on the farm.
“She runs the tractors for us, helps with the bookwork,” Dale said of Ali. “Whatever we need, she can do it all.”
Ali enjoys reading and language arts, and plans to major in agriculture business in college. She would like to continue playing field hockey at the next level, but hasn’t been seen by many recruiters because she is unable to play on the offseason club circuit.
“I would love the experience of playing in college, just because I love the game so much,” she said. “I’m going to have to see what my options are and just keep looking around. Maybe somebody will want me.”
She certainly has left a trail of dazzling statistics this season. Smyrna outshot the Spartans 19-4 on Sept. 17, and the Eagles played the overtime period with a 7-on-5 advantage after two Lake Forest players were sent off for fouls. Somehow, Ali held the fort and the game finished 0-0.
Woodbridge outshot the Spartans 24-1 on Oct. 13, yet had to go to overtime before finally edging Lake Forest 2-1.
But Ali’s best game came Oct. 6 against four-time defending state champion Cape Henlopen, which has an 80-game winning streak against Delaware opponents. The Vikings outshot the Spartans 49-4, but Ali made an incredible 34 saves as Cape squeaked out a 2-1 victory.
“I absolutely love playing games like that, because I really get to show what I can do a little bit,” she said. “… They tend to talk about me, because they don’t like that I block that many shots. When they’re shooting on me, you can tell with their reactions after the play stops that they’re getting a little frustrated.”
Ali will patrol the goal again Thursday against No. 3 Polytech, another team that will almost certainly outshoot Lake Forest. But Hollamon, the Delmar coach, said the Spartans are improving rapidly and could be dangerous if they earn a postseason bid.
“They’re a very, very physical team,” Hollamon said. “They’re not finesse. They go out there and play hard. They could give anybody from No. 1 all the way down to No. 15 a problem if they get in the tournament.”
The Spartans only had 17 players during Ali’s freshman year. The roster is up to 37 now, with a three-year-old junior varsity program improving and starting to send more developed players to the varsity. Lake Forest’s best hockey days may be ahead, but when asked if she would enjoy playing for a team like Cape Henlopen more, Ali left no doubt where her allegiance lies.
“I’m a Spartan,” she said. “I love my team, and whether we win or lose, they’re always going to be my team. We’re a family.”
Contact Brad Myers at [email protected] Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ