UNION TWP. - In a game that saw the ball bounce against the Wall girls soccer team on a number of occasions, the Crimson Knights proved that talent and perseverance befitting of the top team in the state can overcome a run of bad luck.

It also didn't hurt that the ball bounced in the Crimson Knights' favor on the game's final play.

Senior defender Hailee Reinhardt served a free kick from 40 yards out off a defender and into the goal for the golden goal with 20 seconds left in the first overtime to give the Wall a wild 4-3 win over Westwood for its second straight group championship and first ever outright title.

"A lot things didn't go our way early," Wall coach Mike Juska said. "We gave up a (penalty kick) goal and a deflection goal and finally, one came our way. Hailee played a great ball and that one came out in our favor.

Photo by Matt Manley
Photo by Matt Manley

"They didn't want to be a co-champ again. No matter what has happened all year, someone always steps up. You're not going to see many teams with a senior class like we have and I'm really happy for them that they get to go out with a win like this."

Coming off a win over Cinnaminson via a seven rounds of penalty kicks on Tuesday, Wall appeared poised to run away with the Group II crown with two goals in the first 16 minutes. The scoring well dried up over the next 44 minutes, during which Westwood scored three consecutive goals against a normally-stout Wall defense.

The Crimson Knights, however, battled their way back to force overtime and a Westwood foul with 25 seconds left in the first overtime period set up Wall with one more chance to score before heading to a second 10-minute period. Reinhardt played the ball into the middle of the 18-yard box and it went off the head of a leaping Nicolette Lombardi and into her own net.

"I was just thinking that out of all the free kicks I've taken in my life, can this be the one to go in," Reinhardt said. "It had to be the one. We didn't want to go to the second overtime, and we definitely didn't want to finish as co-champs. When it went in, it was just the best feeling."

The ending was ironic in that Wall found itself in overtime because of a pair of self-inflicted wounds, almost in a literal sense. Westwood's first goal came on a foul committed by senior Cara Capra at the edged of the 18-yard box with Cardinals junior Lucie Gehringer facing away from the goal, which led to a penalty kick that Gehringer converted.

The penalty kick was the Cardinals' first shot of the game and their second tied it up in the 33rd. Two Wall defenders collided while going for the ball which allowed Westwood senior Carlye Danzinger to track it down and slide an uncontested pass to junior Sarah Levy. Levy took a touch and when Reinhardt tried to clear the ball toward the sideline, Levy jumped in front of the clearance and deflected the ball inside the near post from close range before Wall sophomore goalkeeper Jordan Chece could react.

"We made a few mistakes and I think we were getting a little overconfident," Reinhardt said. "Mistakes like that can't happen in a game like this, but we just had to re-focus and try to come back."

Westwood's third goal was more conventional, with freshman Meghan Reidel knocking in a cross from Gehringer into the upper part of the netting in the 47th, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 lead after they fell into an early 2-0 hole.

"It was a bit frustrating because it was off our mistakes," said senior midfielder Sarah Gordon, who scored two of Wall's four goals. "We knew we still had to finish our chances, especially once we were down 3-2."

Wall jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Gordon and fellow senior Jenna Karabin in the first 16 minutes. Gordon tapped in a rebound off a save by senior goalkeeper Camryn Collova, who denied an initial shot by senior Lauren Karabin, in the fifth minute. Jenna Karabin then settled a corner kick from senior Jaime Iorio and slammed it into the upper right part of the net.

After reeling from three unanswered Westwood goals over a span on 24 minutes, Wall pulled even in the 60th on Gordon's second goal of the game, which she scored on a low right-footed shot from 12 yards out off a pass from Lauren Karabin.

"How we usually win games is by going out wide because we have Cara and Lauren outside, who can beat anyone one-v-one," Gordon said. "We kept telling them to take it; we just had to get girls in the box and that's how we were going to finish.

"I thought the best thing to do in that situation was to just check back to (the ball). It's hard to win the ball when you are behind a defender, so I tried to win it and get a shot. It's weird, actually, because I'm naturally left-footed, but I scored both goals today with my right foot."

Callova prevented Wall from ending the game even earlier by coming up with 11 saves.

"We wanted to try to get the ball away from the goalie on corners because we knew she was good," Reinhardt said. "We wanted to keep it away from her to at least give us a chance to get a good shot at her and it worked the one time."

Wall's Group II championship is its first outright championship and it comes one year after the Crimson Knights won their first ever share of a state championship by playing Northern Highlands to a scoreless draw in the Group III championship. In that game, Wall was taking on the No. 1 team in N.J., but on Saturday, the Crimson Knights found themselves playing the role of No. 1 team trying to fight off an upset-minded underdog.

Wall debuted at No. 1 in the latest NJ.com Top 20 on Thursday and had to scratch and claw to maintain its claim on the prize, just as Northern Highlands attempted to do last year when playing the Knights.

"When that came out on Thursday, our girls were pumped and I think it energized them even more knowing they had to win to keep that ranking," Juska said. "But for Westwood, I can't say  enough about the way they came out today. They reminded me of our team last year - just fighting, fighting, fighting. It as a little bit more of a roller coaster at 4-3, but they never gave up."

Saturday's golden-goal win caps an already-memorable four years for Wall's group of 12 seniors on the roster. While they were in the program, Wall won three division championships, two Shore Conference Tournament titles and two overall group championships.

In their final year together, the Knights seniors went 24-1-2, with the only loss coming on the road against Group IV co-champion Freehold Township in mid-September. Wall avenged that loss by beating Freehold Township in the SCT championship game.

All the more impressive, Wall made its run to both the SCT and state championships without standout scorer and Princeton-bound forward Amy Paternoster, who missed nearly the entire postseason with a foot injury and still finished her senior year with 29 goals and 20 assists in 18 games.

During Wall's 10 postseason games, both Karabin sisters emerged as scoring forces, while Gordon, Iorio, Capra and senior center midfielder Joan Scheidt also picked up the slack on offense.

"They just fought today like they did all year," Juska said. "It's been a great group of girls, especially leaders like Amy and Maggie (Wishart). I'm going to be very sad losing them but I'm thrilled they are leaving as champions."


Box Score

Wall 4, Westwood 3 (OT)

Westwood (18-2-3)2103
Wall (24-1-2)2114


Goals (Assists): (West) Lucie Gehringer (PK) 22’, Sarah Levy 33’, Meghan Reidel (Lucie Gehringer) 47’; (Wall) Sarah Gordon (Lauren Karabin) 5’, Jenna Karabin (Jaime Iorio) 16’, Sarah Gordon (Lauren Karabin) 60’, own goal 90’
Shots: Wall, 21-4
Saves: (West) Camryn Collova 11; (Wall) Jordan Chece 1


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