RUMSON - It is not unusual to see a high school athlete walk off the field in tears following a loss in a postseason game, but it is not so common to see the same emotion before the game or - even more so - after a postseason win.

Rumson-Fair Haven's boys and girls Shore Conference Tournament double-header Tuesday began with a somber tone and somehow ended with a celebration as the two clubs returned to the field just two days after learning of the death of Rumson-Fair Haven High School junior Pierce Jarck in an apparent suicide at his family's home in Rumson.

The girls team lost the front end of the double-header to Point Pleasant Boro, 2-1, and the boys rallied for a 2-1 overtime win over Lacey to end the evening on a relatively positive note.

From the moment of silence prior to the girls game to the golden goal by senior Leo Maita that ended the boys game, the evening featured a range of emotions and a slow progression toward normalcy that figures to continue for some time for a community shaken by events of early Sunday morning.

Jeremy Nives (left) and Kiel Forlenza (right) mob Arthur Grubert (front) after his game-tying goal Tuesday night. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Jeremy Nives (left) and Kiel Forlenza (right) mob Arthur Grubert (front) after his game-tying goal Tuesday night. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

"This was all them. This is what they wanted," Rumson-Fair Haven first-year coach Sean Reid said. "This is, in my humble opinion, what they needed. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. You might be ready for some things and not ready for others. If we had come out and put our best foot forward and fell short, like we almost did, I’d have been fine with that and I think the boys would have been fine with that too."

"This school is in a really bad place, but a win like this and having all of these kids out tonight is really big to bring spirits back up," Maita said. "It’s hard to come back from something like that, but it’s good to have a good community around you."

Jarck was, by all accounts, a well-liked junior at Rumson-Fair Haven who was a rising standout on the lacrosse team after carving out a significant role on last year's 21-win Bulldogs varsity team. Junior Jamie Goodwyn and sophomore Kiel Forlenza both play with him on the lacrosse team and were close with Jarck, who was part of the Rumson soccer program last year.

Forlenza started at outside back Tuesday while Goodwyn chose not to play, but did show up for game time to cheer his team on from the bench.

"I came to practice yesterday, but we’ve had a lot stuff going on - me and my friends," Goodwyn said. "We’ve just been spending a lot of time together. We were at my friend’s house and I just realized I was late and I figured I’d go support the team, but I didn’t feel comfortable playing today."

The varsity girls soccer team, meanwhile is made up of mostly juniors. Coach Mary Beth Coleman said many were friends with Jarck and were taking the news hard, including one member of the team who chose not to come to school on Tuesday and was not at the game.

"What happened is a tragedy and a lot of girls on the team were really close with him," said Coleman, a veteran and championship-winning head coach and a health and physical education teacher at the high school. "The fact that they even came today – I’m proud of that. Just showing up so that they can be with the team.

"He was a very well-liked boy. He was an athlete. He was very personable. We’re a very close-knit community. We’re a small school, small community where everybody knows everybody. Something like this - everybody feels it."

Everything leading up to the first whistle Tuesday was different for the players on both teams. Coleman said her team barely touched the ball during a 45-minute practice on Monday. According to Reid, the boys team gathered at Fair Haven Fields and just talked.

"We sat around at Fair Haven Field and talked yesterday," Reid said. "There are some things bigger than what we have and what we’re all about. These kids need their coaches, they need their family and their friends and that’s the atmosphere we tried to construct for them."

The Bulldogs and Lions were supposed to play by Monday in the opening round of the SCT, but all after school activities were postponed or cancelled as the school offered grief counseling throughout the day Monday.

"Being here yesterday, no way I saw us playing today," Maita said. "I’m really glad we were able to postpone this game yesterday because it was pretty bad around here. I’m glad with the way it worked out today and I have my team to thank for that."

Rumson senior Leo Maita. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Rumson senior Leo Maita. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

"We never mentioned to the kids, but if they had come to us and said, ‘We don’t want any part of this,’ we would have just backed out (of the tournament)," Reid said.

Both of Tuesday's games began with a moment of silence prior to the National Anthem, which left several Bulldogs players visibly emotional. The Rumson players all wore wristbands with Jarck's lacrosse number, 38, written on them. The Lacey boys team joined Rumson in the pregame anthem line as a show of support.

Just four weeks ago, it was Rumson's boys team that was offering its condolences and support to Holmdel, which mourned the loss of a junior lacrosse player of its own. Jack Dowd died suddenly at a lacrosse camp on Sunday, Sept. 17 and Holmdel's first soccer game since the incident was three days later at home against Rumson-Fair Haven.

"After we saw Holmdel and how moved they were when we gave them the flowers and then how motivated they were to keep moving forward after such a terrible thing, I think that sort of inspired everyone here," Goodwyn said. "I’m sure that’s not the first thing on everyone’s mind, but it’s something I think everybody thought back on and took into account."

Photo by Paula Lopez
Photo by Paula Lopez

Once the games started, the two Rumson teams carried their emotions into the game, although only one got the result it hoped for - and even that result seemed in doubt in the in the final minutes.

Lacey grabbed the lead on a goal by senior Kevin Miller in the 32nd minute off a long ball from junior Kip Byrne and the Bulldogs' efforts to equalize came up empty for the next 40-plus minutes. Rumson had a goal waved off due to a push in the box and Lacey goalkeeper Ryan Giles denied Bulldogs senior George Sellig on a penalty kick in the 65th minute.

Rumson, however, did not relent and with 4:57 left in regulation, the Bulldogs finally equalized. Senior Arthur Grubert made a near-post run on a free kick from junior Jeremy Nives from 25 yards out on the left side and one-timed it into the far side netting.

It took Rumson just two minutes of overtime to end the game, with junior Pat Maisto playing the ball diagonally on the ground to Maita, who touched it toward the left post and slammed in the winning shot to the upper near corner.

"All the seniors knew that this could be our last Shore Conference game if it went down the way it looked like it was going," Maita said. "Seeing it go in the back of the net, to see that ripple was pretty wild.

"You could feel the emotion on the bench and you could see it on the field – it was electric. I just want to thank the fans, because normally we don’t get a crowd like that, so that definitely helped to have that kind of support.

Rumson won the shot advantage, 17-4, over Lacey, which lost one of its top scoring threats in senior forward Riley Hunt to a sprained right ankle he sustained shortly before Miller's goal.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, continued to play without senior midfielder Owen Greengrove, who is recovering from a concussion that he suffered one week ago from Tuesday.

Prior to the late-game heroics, it appeared the boys were headed for the same fate as the girls. The Lady Bulldogs pulled even at 1-1 with a goal by sophomore Ellen Daly in the 66th minute, set up by a cross from junior Grace Karagjozi. Point Boro answered, however, three minutes later on a game-winning goal by Heather Van Deventer, who also assisted Frankie Ryan's goal in the 28th.

"We were very aware of what (Rumson was) going through and we wanted to be very respectful," Van Deventer said. "It's really traumatizing to hear news like this because you see it happen around the world, but this is so much closer to home. It's sad, but we didn't want it to take away from what we came here to do. Like I said, we wanted to be respectful and focus on playing our game."

Rumson's attempt to equalize fell short to end a game that could be considered frustrating for the losing side under any circumstance. The Bulldogs outshot the Panthers, 18-8, and played more than 60 minutes without standout center midfielder Margot Ridgeway, who injured her left thumb and left Borden Stadium during the game with her left arm in a sling.

Point Boro, meanwhile, left Rumson in good spirits and will prepare to play at top-seeded Freehold Township on Thursday in the Shore Conference Tournament Round of 16.

The two Bulldogs teams will continue to grieve in their respective ways, the girls by getting away from the hyper-competition of postseason play until the start of the NJSIAA Tournament on Oct. 30 and the boys by continuing their SCT run. The ninth-seeded Bulldogs will play at No. 8 Toms River South on Thursday, with the winner playing the winner of the CBA-vs.-Middletown South game on Saturday.

The rest of the SCT is scheduled to be played on Wednesday and Friday, but Toms River South and Rumson's other potential opponents agreed to delay their games by one day in order to keep Rumson from having to play on consecutive days.

Friday also would have been problematic for Rumson because memorial services for Jarck will be held that day.

"The fact that we have something going on is helpful," Goodwyn said. "It’s better that we’re all together, playing together and supporting each other. It’s better than sitting alone at home. It’s definitely good that we have something to strive for."

While a golden goal victory for the boys certainly elevated the mood Tuesday, the fun already began to seep back into Borden Stadium. A sizable group of students gathered over the course of the boys game and with the team heading to overtime, began an impromptu version of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline".

For the students in attendance Tuesday night, life was certainly different but it did, indeed, go on.

Even Goodwyn said he is ready to dress with his team on Thursday in Toms River to help them try to make sure their SCT run also carries on.

"I thought about going out there tonight," Goodwyn said. "I'll be ready Thursday. I'm looking forward to it."


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