Girls Soccer – Shore Surges Back to Win Group I Title on a Golden Goal
UNION TWP. -- Shore Regional seniors Mia Agresti and Rori McDonough are part of a sibling lineage of girls soccer standouts at their high school, but before Sunday's Group I championship game against Mountain Lakes at Kean University, there was something they did not experience at Shore that most of their sisters had: a group championship.
With the prospects of changing that looking grim midway through the second half, Agresti did her part to change that and watch as the next Agresti sister in line delivered her, McDonough and the rest of the senior class that coveted championship
Sophomore Ava Agresti knocked in a cross from senior Lauren Saponaro in the fifth minute of overtime and to complete a furious comeback by the Blue Devils, who topped Mountain Lakes, 3-2, to give Shore its fifth Group I championship -- all in the last nine seasons and the first since 2017.
"There is just so much excitement," Ava Agresti said. "I worked with both my sisters. It's my older sister's last year and I have a twin sister (Amelia) and I'm just so excited that we're all happy."
Of Shore's five championships since 2013, two of them ended with golden goals and the 2017 championship ended with a game-winning goal in the final 10 seconds of regulation. The Agresti-led effort of Sunday night was the latest in Shore's memorable championship performances.
"The girls never stopped fighting," Shore coach George Moutis said. "At halftime, even after the goals, they just said, 'We're going to keep on fighting' and they never gave up."
Two second-half goals by Mountain Lakes senior Henna Andican planted Shore in a 2-0 hole but the Blue Devils drew even with two quick strikes. Mia Agresti bent a corner kick toward the back post and senior Barbara Grimm knocked it in to break up the shutout in the 63rd minute.
"Mia on the corner kicks or the direct kicks is always there for us," Moutis said. "She's got a great kick. It's nothing a coach can do or add to: a great kick is a great kick and she has that."
Just 37 seconds later, the elder Agresti saw space, took a touch and drilled a 30-yard strike to the upper right corner of the goal to level the game at 2-2.
"It was one-v.-one with me and the other girl and I just went around her and shot it," Mia Agresti said.
"That gave me more confidence to continue to finish off the game," Ava Agresti said. "We wouldn't have been able to do it without her. That shot was insane. She is just a really good player."
Ava Agresti had a chance to end the game in regulation with a shot from the top of the box that skimmed just wide of the left post, but the sophomore got a second chance in overtime.
Five minutes into the first extra period, Saponaro beat a defender up the right flank and hit a cross to the front of the net. Ava Agresti got one touch on it, it settled in front of her and she punched it in from close range to set off the celebration.
"It was such a group effort," Ava Agresti said. "We brought the ball the right side of the field. Lauren, who got the assist, crossed it and I just followed through and into the net. It was a group effort."
"I knew (Saponaro) was going to cross and I thought I was going to get it, but Ava got there first," Mia Agresti said. "I was right behind her and watched her finish. We know each other, we know how each other plays and we just wanted it more."
Senior goalkeeper Parker Grimm also made a pair of key saves in the first half to prevent further damage.
"Parker made two very important saves to keep us in it," Moutis said. "That was an important part of the game. It could have been a whole different outcome."
Ava and twins sister, Amelia, are the youngest Agresti siblings on the team, with Mia leading the way as a senior. Their older sister, Maddy, graduated in 2017 as part of the team that rallied for a 5-4 win in the Group I championship game against Glen Ridge.
McDonough, meanwhile, is part of one of the most decorated set of soccer siblings in Shore Conference history. Oldest sister, Jesse, graduated in 2012 as the only one of five McDonough sisters at Shore to never win a Group I championship, but she helped set the course for the program under Moutis before continuing her career at Princeton University and currently as a professional in France.
From there, Sam and Devon McDonough emerged to help Shore win a share of the Group I co-championship in 2013 and Devon and Frankie McDonough were key players on Shore's first two outright championship teams in 2015 and 2016. Frankie McDonough then helped lead Shore to a third straight Group I championship in 2017 before Rori joined the team in 2018, when the Blue Devils lost in the Group II semifinal to end their three-year reign as group champions.
This class of seniors, which totals 13 players from the 2022 graduating class, made it back to the Group I final as sophomores in 2019 and lost to Mountain Lakes, 4-2, in a game in which the Blue Devils also fell into a sizable hole before trying, unsuccessfully, to rally back.
Rori McDonough's graduation in the spring will mark the end of an incredible 13 consecutive seasons with at least one of the McDonough sisters on Shore Regional's varsity soccer team.
"It's a great legacy that they have left at Shore soccer," Moutis said. "We're going to miss them. We still have the Agresti's though."
With no conventional Group I championship tournament last year, this was the last chance for the Class of 2022 to be part of a championship team at Shore and this time, they completed the comeback.
"You can't give up," Moutis said. "I try to impress upon the girls, when you go out on the field, you give it your all. If you give it your all, you are a winner. If you did your best, that's all that matters."
"Us seniors, we needed this," Mia Agresti said. "It feels like it has been a long time since we have been here and we wanted to leave with a championship and we got it done."