Girls Soccer – Toms River North Impresses on the Way to Shore Conference Final
BARNEGAT -- Just by drawing the No. 2 seed and reaching the championship game of the 2021 Shore Conference Tournament, the Toms River North girls soccer team has validated its standing as one of the top programs in the state.
The Mariners, however, are not heading into Thursday's championship game at Barnegat High School satisfied with being one of the best. The 2018 Shore Conference champions and 2019 runners-up want the top spot.
Toms River North turned in the most impressive performance of Thursday's girls SCT double-header at Barnegat Monday, blanking No. 6 Red Bank Catholic, 2-0, to make it to the championship game for the third straight tournament after the 2020 SCT was canceled amid the COVID-19-shortened season.
"We talked about that before and after the game today," Toms River North coach Tom Miller said. "It's an amazing accomplishment to make it to the final four of this tournament because of how many great teams are in it. But we don't just want to make it. We want to win it and if we can play the way we did against a great team like RBC, why can't we win the whole thing?"
Senior Jaime Girtain and sophomore Alexis Garcia carried the scoring load by each scoring a goal and assisting the other during the first half. Garcia opened the scoring by settling a pass from Girtain in space, taking a touch and spinning a shot off the outside of her right foot and into the far right part of the net from 28 yards out in the 27th minute.
Toms River North cashed in one more time before halftime, this time with Garcia setting up Girtain. Garcia lofted the ball over RBC's back line and Girtain beat both the defense and RBC goalkeeper Cleo Grignard to the ball and knock a shot into the right corner of the goal in the 36th.
The last 33 minutes of the first half were a dominant display from Toms River North and that stretch began with a close call. Early in the first half, Red Bank Catholic manufactured the game's first near-goal when top scorer Morgan Cupo sealed off a defender, got a perfect pass from Mya King and belted a shot from 12 yards away that whistled just over the crossbar.
"The last time we played them, we gave up an early goal and had to play from behind," Miller said, referencing his team's 2-1 win over Red Bank Catholic on Sept. 20. "Cupo is a very dangerous player and when she almost scored in the first few minutes, I think it was a reminder that we can't let our guard down. From there, I thought we played close to as well as we can play. We would have liked to finish a few more, especially in the second half, but our effort and focus were there."
That was the first of Red Bank Catholic's two shots in the first half, with the Mariners outshooting the Caseys, 9-2, over the first 40 minutes. RBC battled its way to a more even game over the first 20 minutes before the Mariners closed the game strong, finishing with a 17-6 shot advantage.
Monday marked the second win of the season for Toms River North over Red Bank Catholic and the 15th in a row for Toms River North, which opened its season with a 1-1 draw vs. Toms River East and has not lost since.
Now, the Mariners are one win away from capturing their second SCT title in four years -- which would be a fitting accomplishment for a senior group that began their career as champions and now has a chance to end it that way.
"We have a bunch of girls who were part of that battle for us," Miller said. "They know what that's like and to be able to be in there with that team as freshman was huge in shaping the team going forward. Getting to the final the next year and losing was big in shaping them too, as well as some of the younger girls who were freshmen on that team.
"When I first got the job, our old coach, Jerry Klimek, told me the key is to get to the semifinals (of the SCT). If you can get to the semifinals, it opens their eyes. They are under the lights, more people are watching and no matter who you play, it's a great team. When they get a taste of that, great players and great teams are going to want more and we're fortunate that we have players here who really badly want to play in these games."