Brick, NJ- On a beautiful sunny day at Brick Memorial, the Mustangs girls soccer program opened their 2015 campaign against one of the top five teams in New Jersey, Hunterdon Central.  It is the same Hunterdon Central team that ended the Mustangs late season run a year ago in the Central Jersey Group IV playoffs with a 6-0 convincing win over a senior led Brick Memorial squad.

After graduating eleven seniors that included their starting keeper, their entire defensive line, midfielders and forwards, this season looked like a rebuilding one coming into the season.  Someone forgot to tell that to the incoming freshman and returning varsity letter winners from last season.  Led by the only two returning starters in  junior captain Lindsay Hernandez and senior captain Joriam Rivera, the Mustangs are relatively starting from scratch with new Green and Gold family members.  Junior's Taylor Schaad, Melissa Merritt and Jess Glass round out the other Mustangs who bring back varsity action for Coach Bill Caruso.  Caruso joked after the game, "Bill Bruno (previous athletic director) is a genius for giving us Hunterdon Central right out of the gate."

Brick Memorial's Gianna Stigliano finds dribbling room against Hunterdon Central…Photo by Eric Braun

The Mustangs on Saturday morning opened up with what was expected with some nerves and miscommunications with basically a new group of players and it showed early.  High powered Hunterdon Central took the opening kick off and immediately attacked the Mustangs young defense and nearly capitalized in the first minute of play.  Brick Memorial would eventually settle down and began to tie their passes together and counter attacked Hunterdon Central.

In the 18th minute of play, the young Mustangs would make several crucial mistakes on a corner kick and could not clear the box before Hunterdon Central found the back of the net.  Of a corner the ball went back and fourth in front of Brick Memorial keeper Gianna Occhiogrosso, who made the initial save but two mis-kicks on clearance ended with Hunterdon senior forward Lizzie Knoop heading the ball for the early lead.  The young Mustangs battled and hung tough through halftime and remained down 1-0.

From the opening whistle of the second half, the young Brick Memorial Mustangs came of age and proved to everyone in attendance that they deserve the respect and recognition they are determines to get this this season.  The Mustangs won just about every loose ball, challenged and did not back down on the speed of Hunterdon Central and began to inflict their own ball control and attacks.  For the majority of the first half, the Hunterdon Central defensive four looked to be too much for Brick Memorial.  The second half, the summer workouts, team retreat and team bonding began to show for Caruso's Mustangs as they began to chip away as a unit at the Hunterdon Central midfield and defensive pressure.

Around twenty five minute mark, Coach Caruso subbed in Glass to the offensive line and it turned out to be the move of the match.  The intensity and pressure the she brought was immediately felt on the Hunterdon back line.  Her pressure opened up more room in midfield for Hernandez and Schaad.  With just under fourteen minutes to play, Hernandez loft a ball over the back line of Hunterdon Central to a charging Glass, who let up and went around senior keeper Bristol Pizzuto who came out to make the save.  Glass, who stayed with the play, received a gift when Pizzuto misjudged the ball and the ball went over her head and right to the foot of Glass who walked in the tying goal.  Afterwards Hernandez admitted, "I was just trying to get the ball over the defense to try and make something happen, i wasn't expecting the keeper to totally misplay it but we will take it."

Brick Memorial's Lindsay Hernandez lofts the ball over the Hunterdon Central's defensive line for the assist on the tying goal….Photo by Eric Braun

The two teams would change offensive runs in regulation but neither team could find the back of the net.  With both teams facing 2-ten minute over time periods or golden goal, the Mustangs changed up their formation a little and dropped Hernandez back to the defensive line to add some physicality and leadership.  The defensive line for Brick Memorial stood tall and earned their variety stripes in their opening match.  Freshman Dominique Cummings, sophomore's Mackenzie Scandrett, Michaella Merklin and Sam Lepore, began to settle things down and communicated with each other and started to form the power shut down defense Brick Memorial has been known for.

Hunterdon Central's Bristol Pizzuto comes up with a huge save against Brick Memorial's Gianna Stigliano to preserve the 1-1 tie…Photo by Eric Braun

The Mustangs from Brick Memorial opened some eyes today and will look to carry that into a tough September stretch that has them facing Southern Regional, Toms River North, Brick Township and Jackson Memorial.  Coach Caruso after added "these girls earned that draw today against a tough Hunterdon Central squad.  The heart and passion that these girls brought today has earned them the respect that they deserve, now we just have to build on it."