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HOLMDEL -- Before Friday's NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship game between eighth-seeded Wall and No. 2 Holmdel kicked off, Holmdel had already won enough games and beaten enough quality opponents since the start of the 2020 season to make the case that the last two seasons are the best two-year stretch in the history of the Hornets girls soccer program.

There was just one caveat: Despite a record of 31-1-1 in that timeframe, Holmdel still had no tournament championship to show for it and when Friday's game advanced into overtime, the prospect of missing out on a championship grew in weight.

With one swing of her leg 38 seconds into overtime, however, senior Julianna Kolbasovsky lifted that weight off her team's collective shoulders with the golden goal in a 1-0 Holmdel win over Wall that secured the Hornets their third sectional championship in the last eight years and first since 2015.

Photo by Matt Manley
Photo by Matt Manley

"This is so much fun," Kolbasovsky said. "I was just so glad I could help the team. Everybody worked so hard. Everybody felt like this was coming. I was just glad I was there."

Holmdel dominated possession and created the bulk of the game's chances during regulation and finally made it play pay off on the first chance of extra time. Kolbasovsky received the ball and carried it to the top of the 18-yard box and fired a low shot that skipped just before reaching Wall goalkeeper Nelly Bianchi, bounced over her outstretched arms and into the lower left of the goal for the game-winner.

"We knew it was coming," Kolbasovsky said. "To get it so early in overtime was really nice. I just saw open space and I thought I would just take a shot from the top of the box and I scored."

"It was such a relief," senior defender Adriana Morales said. "We worked so hard to get here and it felt good to see us finally put one away."

"As soon as I saw the ball go to Julianna and she took the shot, I knew something good was going to happen," senior captain Katie Vassilakos said. "She has scored big goals for us all year and I'm so happy she got the game-winner. She works so hard and she deserved that."

Holmdel coach John Nacarlo has now won sectional championships with both the girls and boys programs at Holmdel, the latter of which he guided to seven sectional titles between 2006 and 2018. There were also, naturally, some years in which his teams came up short and he couldn't help but think of one of those times while his team was locked in a 0-0 match heading toward overtime: a 2014 Central Group II championship loss to Governor Livingston on penalty kicks after a scoreless draw.

"The way the game was going, I kept thinking back to 2014," Nacarlo said. "It had that same feel where were dominating possession, we kept getting chances and we just weren't getting any to go in. Give credit to this group, our seniors and J.K. (Kolbasovsky) They work hard and they showed their composure when we needed it."

Two near misses in the middle of the second half added to Holmdel's frustration, beginning with a finish by Vassilakos that was disallowed because of offsides. Less than two minutes later, Kolbasovsky slid a shot that hit the right post after it barely eluded the sliding attempt of Hornets senior striker Taylor Bielan trying to finish it off.

"It was definitely a little nerve-wracking," Kolbasovsky said. "But we knew we had most of the possession, we knew we had the front foot and we knew that if we came out and played for another 20 minutes, we would have put it away."

"I kept telling the girls to look to get shots on net and trying to keep them on the ground," Nacarlo said. "Their keeper (Nelly Bianchi) made some good saves for them but most of them were high, so I wanted to see us test her and skip some balls off the turf, and that's exactly what J.K. did.:

With her overtime goal, Kolbasovsky ensured that this group of Holmdel seniors that has been a prominent part of the last two teams collects a postseason trophy -- something last year's 15-0 team appeared poised to due before it had to withdraw from the NJSIAA Tournament due to COVID-19 protocol.

Even had Holmdel been able to finish last season and won a sectional championship, it would have been a modified section that Holmdel won and this year represented a chance to make any championship -- whether the Shore Conference Class A Central title, the Shore Conference Tournament championship or any title in Group II -- official.

The Hornets rolled to a division championship and suffered their only loss of the last two years in the 2021 Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinal at the hands of Red Bank Catholic.

After Friday's win, Holmdel is one win shy of reaching the Group II championship game, which would also mark the third group final appearance in eight years and the first since losing to Ramapo in the 2015 Group II final. One year prior, the Hornets beat Ramapo for their first group championship.

Although those 2014 and 2015 Holmdel teams have the better postseason track record to this point, they lost a combined 12 matches over that two-year stretch before getting hot for both tournament runs.

Since those back-to-back championship appearances, Holmdel went four straight seasons with a losing record before last year's 15-0 campaign ended the winning drought in resounding fashion. Nacarlo took over the program ahead of 2020 and two years after leading the Holmdel boys team to the second of its back-to-back Group II titles and top-five finishes in the state, he quickly led a turnaround season for the Hornets girls.

"I couldn't even imagine we would be here this year," Morales said. "Coach Nacarlo, he worked hard, he pushed us. It was hard during practices: a lot of 120's, a lot of running and we got through it and here we are."

Vassilakos is one of six players on this year's roster with an older brother who played for Nacarlo, so the connection to what the boys teams accomplished is strong. Many of the players from the 2017 and 2018 boys teams helped train last year's girls team ahead of their undefeated season, according to Nacarlo.

"I can just remember going to watch the boys team in 2018 when I was a freshman and seeing what they accomplished and I think that really stuck with me and the other seniors who were around for that," Vassilakos said. "We knew coach Nacarlo was going to be tough and he was going to be demanding of us, but all the guys who played for him just kept telling us, 'I know some of it is going to seem crazy, but just trust him. It will be worth it.'"

"The boys were great when I first took the (girls) job," Nacarlo said. "A lot of them came out during the summer and worked with them and I think seeing them put the time in to help them get better and to know that they thought enough of the program to come back and help out, I think it sends the message to the group that if they put the work in, they could accomplish a lot. That's one thing about the groups I have had the last two years is they have given as much effort as a coach could ask for and I think the results are showing that."

The prospect of finishing off the program's third Group II championship and going down as the most accomplished team in program history will be a motivating factor as the Hornets head to Haddonfield to face the South Jersey Group II champion Bulldogs in Wednesday's group semifinal round.

"It wasn't just for the girls out on the field tonight," Kolbasovsky said. "It's all the girls in college now who put so much time and so much work in last year and couldn't get a trophy. We did it for them and we did it for us."


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