It isn’t often a team accomplishes everything it sets out to do in a season, but that certainly was the case for the Montgomery High School girls soccer team.
In the NJSIAA Group IV championship game Sunday, the Cougars picked up that final piece of hardware.
Senior Catrina Atanda struck 14:18 into the game off a Colby Ciarocca header and the Montgomery defense did the rest, holding Ridge to just two shots on goal and capturing its first Group IV title, 1-0 at The College of New Jersey.
With Montgomery (23-1-2) dominating shots and possession early, the Cougars’ constant pressure paid off. Ciarrocca headed a loose ball over an oncoming defender near the top of the 18 and sent it into the box where Atanda ran onto it, beating Ridge keeper Rachel Axt and booting it into the left corner of the net.
“We’ve worked so hard for this and we’ve had our eye on this prize,” said Atanda, who also scored the winner in a 1-0 victory over the Red Devils in the Somerset County Tournament final, one of three times these teams met this year. “It’s difficult playing a team three times, but we knew that we could beat them and we came out and we proved it today.”
Ridge (16-5-5) had been the only team to shut out the Cougars this season — the teams played to a scoreless draw during the regular season. And thought the Red Devils had allowed just 11 goals entering Sunday’s meeting, it’s hard to keep a team like Montgomery at bay, one that had averaged more than four goals per game and had already won a conference, county and sectional title.
“They’ve got a great defensive personality and it showed tonight,” Montgomery coach Jeremy Beardsley said. “It’s just one of those things that we just did not thing there was a team in the state of New Jersey that could hold our firepower down, and that’s probably the best defense in the state.”
Of course, whatever plan Ridge might have had for short circuiting the Cougars attack went by the wayside when Montgomery took the early lead.
“It didn’t change us much, but it certainly changed their situation,” Beardsley said. “They came out in a little different system than the other games, in a 4-5-1. They basically put everyone and their sister in the box and basically said we’re not going to allow you in behind us. So we knew if we got a goal we could force them to come out of it.”
“Our goal was to keep to them off the scoreboard as long as possible and upset their flow for as long as possible,” Ridge coach Katie Donahue said. “But Atanda is a dangerous player and she did a great job.”
Ridge had a chance with 7:00 left in opening half after drawing a foul 30 yards out, but the ball was cleared out before posing a threat and Montgomery finished the first half with a 6-0 advantage in shots, including 3-0 on goal.
Ridge did better in the second half, generating three shots — two on goal — but still the Red Devils came up empty.
“We were able to just stay together and play as a team,” said Montgomery center back Katherine Lynch said. “The backs like me, Alison Prosinski and Julia Straiey formed this bond like no other. We connected so well. And we were always there to cover each other.”
“We had some opportunities,” Donahue said. “I thought we produced more opportunities than we did in the county final against them and I would have loved to be able to execute some of the things we wanted to do toward the end when we were more offensive minded. Maybe another 5-10 minutes we would have gotten one, but they’re a tremendous team and they have every right to earn this win tonight.”
SAVES: R – Axt 6; M – Ravitz 2