POINT PLEASANT – From a positional standpoint, Emily Royson and Alexa Peto couldn’t be further removed with little common ground in between.

The Toms River North teammates conduct their admirable work on the soccer pitch at opposite ends of the spectrum. Royson is the anchor of the Mariners’ defense, an ultra-alert junior central defender entrusted to maintain the line of communication essential to the rigid structure of a three-back unit. Peto injects electricity at the apex of the attack with a blend of physicality, acceleration and laser-like finishing power, making an opposing defense shutter every time the sophomore striker lurks inside the final third.

One is intent on assuring balls stay out of the back of the net, the other undeniably fixated on burying a shot in that exact location. Yet, the common thread that intertwines the two is arguably the most significant element within their distinctively different assignments.

Photo by Paula Lopez.
Photo by Paula Lopez.

Each has a comfortable embrace of the opportunity to possess on the ball, certainly a credit to their adhesive touch, but also due in large part to unflappable poise perfectly suited for intense circumstances.

“They both play with such great composure,” said Toms River North coach Tom Miller. “Emily is the backbone who stepped up on defense and Alexa has been playing out of her mind up top.”

Operating in a manner that emphasized the core of what makes each so integral, Peto and Royson rose to the occasion on Wednesday night, each doing what she does best to spark fifth-seeded Toms River North to a 1-0 shutout over third-seeded Red Bank Catholic for the Shore Conference Tournament championship.

Peto produced the lone strike of the match in the 28th minute and Royson teamed with junior Jamie Wyckoff, freshman Faith Wavershak and sophomore keeper Cameron Kennett to preserve the one-goal advantage over the balance of the match to secure the first SCT crown for Toms River North (12-3-1) since 2012.


“It was so important to take advantage of this opportunity,” noted Royson of seizing the chance to claim the title. “We lost a lot of good seniors from a year ago and some didn’t think we’d make it this far. It was great to get to the finals and even better to win it.”

Toms River North withstood intense pressure from Red Bank Catholic (14-3), which had a seven-game win streak snapped, in the initial five minutes before finding their rhythm. A minute after Kennett denied a 16-yard bid from RBC senior forward Sofia Giamanco, the Mariners went on the offensive.

The Caseys momentarily thwarted a counterattack by knocking a ball out of box only to have senior midfielder Morgan Curtis nodded a header forward to Peto, who gathered and fired a blast for her third goal of the tournament and ninth of the season.

“I brought it down, took a little touch and shot it,” described Peto. “There were two or three defenders around me but I shot it as quick as I could. I thought it might go wide but I got lucky.”

Staked to the lead, Toms River North continued to assert itself over the balance of the first half. Through ideal spacing of the field, it compiled a 7-2 edge in shots, an advantage that took an about face over the final 40 minutes.

Aggressively in search of an equalizer, Red Bank Catholic made some dangerous ventures to goal following intermission. Danielle Borrino’s crack off a 20-yard restart whistled over the crossbar in the 57th minute and Julia Rafaniello manufactured a pair of menacing shots, the first in the 58th off some slick maneuvering that ended with Kennett snuffing the threat and the second on a deft cut off the left wing in the 72nd that glanced off the woodwork.

“At first, they were pressing us and we got compacted and couldn’t get out,” noted Miller. “Once we figured it out and it opened up, we could do our thing.”

Toms River North utilized a strong spine down the middle of the park. From Kennett and Royson in the back, through Curtis and Jazmin Brown in the midfield and up to Peto and versatile Marisa Tava, the Mariners had a firm foundation centralized and ceaselessly active.

“It’s so important,” Royson said of the Mariners’ seamless transitions from third to third. “It’s great that we have those people in place and everyone playing so well together.”

Through that unity, Toms River North completed an impressive run to the championship, one that included triumphs over fourth-seeded Shore and top-seeded and previously-unbeaten Middletown North en route to the final destination.

“Once we saw the draw, we knew it was going to be tough but the girls believed from the start that we could do it,” shared Miller. “To go through Shore, Middletown North and RBC…that’s a fabulous run.”


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