Girls Soccer – Shore, Wall Return to the Group Finals Saturday
NJSIAA Girls Soccer Group Championships
Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019
At Kean University
Shore (16-5) vs. Mountain Lakes (18-7)
After missing out on the Group I finals for the first time in seven years last season, Shore returns for its seventh trip to the championship game in the last eight years. The Blue Devils have been utterly dominant during their four-game trip to the Group I championship game, outscoring four opponents by a 22-1 margin.
After Shore scored a 3-0 win over New Egypt in the Central Jersey Group I final, it seemed like the games would begin to get more competitive in the tournament’s late stages. Instead, the Blue Devils dismantled defending Group I champion Audubon, 6-0 – a revenge game for Shore after it lost to the Green Wave in last year’s Group I semifinal. The 6-0 tally properly reflected a relentless effort by the Blue Devils, which outshot Audubon 33-4 in the victory.
Senior forward and Illinois commit Julia Eichenbaum scored three of Shore’s four second-half goals in the win over Audubon, giving her 34 for the season and 106 for her career. With one more hat trick on Saturday, Eichenbaum would move into a first-place tie with former teammate and 2019 graduate Frankie McDonough for the program’s all-time goals-scored record.
Facing a Mountain Lakes team that both scores and gives up its fair share of goals, Eichenbaum will have a shot to reach the record, but she will also have plenty of help on the attack. Seniors Sydney Sears and Meli Pekmezian have been integral parts of the offense and as leaders, with both coming off productive performances against Audubon – Sears with three assists and Pekmezian with a goal and an assist.
The Blue Devils have also gotten a lift from its sophomore class, particularly from Lauren Saponaro. With another goal in the win over Audubon, Saponaro has scored three times in the tournament and added an assist as well.
Henna Andican leads Mountain Lakes into their first ever Group I championship game after pulling out a 4-3 win over perennial Group I Glen Ridge in the group semifinal round. Andican has racked up 25 goals and 20 assists during her sophomore campaign, including eight goals during the tournament, and will be the No. 1 concern for Shore on the defensive side of things.
Shore is aiming for its fourth outright Group I championship and fifth overall after sharing its first state championship back in 2013 and winning three straight from 2015 to 2017. The last time the Blue Devils were in a state final, Eichenbaum scored twice in the last three minutes to rally Shore for a 5-4 win over Glen Ridge, including the game-winner with nine seconds left in regulation.
Wall (16-5) vs. Parsippany Hills (15-6-4)
While some of the leading ladies from Shore’s 2017 championship team remain the same, Wall’s cast is almost entirely different. The Crimson Knights had a senior-laden squad during their run to the Group II title two years ago and have authored a return to the championship round for the third time in four years with a new group.
Despite a lack of championship-game experience, the Crimson Knights have plenty of senior leadership. Grace Gisoldi, Marissa Sciorilli, Alex Hummel and goalkeeper Jordan Cheche got some time as sophomores two years ago and Izabella Aravich, Caleigh Burke and Giulianna Cavazzoni have all been senior contributors as well, with Cavazzoni sharing goalkeeping duties with Cheche.
Senior Mackenzie Tranberg was a freshman on the 2016 team that share the 2016 Group III championship with Northern Highlands and returned to high school soccer this year after playing academy soccer each of the past two seasons. Tranberg has been Wall’s top scorer this season while working both up top and in the midfield and sent the Crimson Knights to the Group II title game with her overtime golden goal to beat Haddonfield in Wednesday’s Group II semifinal.
Junior Olivia Ramiz has also emerged as a go-to scorer for Wall up top, evidenced by her two goals in a 2-0 win over Governor Livingston in the Central Jersey Group II title game. Ramiz also spent the past two years playing academy soccer and her return has given Wall another element of dynamic offense it lacked a year ago, when the Crimson Knights failed to advance past the sectional quarterfinal round.
Parsippany Hills is also seeking a return to glory three years after winning the Group II championship in 2016. While Wall coasted to its sectional championship, the Vikings battled their way to their second sectional championship in four years, including narrow wins in each of its last three matches.
Junior Nerina San Martin has been the Parsippany Hills difference-maker during the tournament, scoring the winning goals in each of the final two rounds of the sectional tournament – the first to beat Parsippany, 1-0, and the second a golden goal to down Hanover Park, 2-1, in the championship game.
The Wall girls are one-half of a Crimson Knights soccer tandem attempting to make history this weekend at Kean. Wall is the 15th school to advance both its girls and boys soccer teams to the group final round in the same season and only the second ever team from the Shore Conference to do so (Holmdel in 2015). Only two programs – Steinert in 1988 and Hunterdon Central in 2016 – have won outright state championships in the same season and Wall will have a chance to become the third, with the Crimson Knights boys taking on Millburn in Sunday’s Group III championship game at 10 a.m.