The Morris Catholic girls soccer team has found its way back to the NJSIAA Non-Public B final for the second straight year, and will face a familiar opponent.
The Crusaders (15-5-1), the No. 3 seed in Non-Public North B, will face St. Rose (the top seed in South B) for the third time in four years. Last year Morris Catholic won 1-0 to earn its first state crown since 2003. In 2010 it was the Purple Roses who were crowned state champs with a 2-1 victory.
Last season, the game came down to the final minutes as Tara Sobierajski, who has since graduated, scored the winning goal with three minutes left on an assist from Rachel Mills. This year, the Crusaders have a different game plan in mind.
“We’re definitely expecting to score early this time around, we can’t wait until the last minutes to finish up,” senior forward Samantha Garzon said. “We’re going to take it to them from the beginning.”
In order to do that, the Crusaders will have to look out for senior forward Lauren Gates, who leads St. Rose (15-3-2) with 21 goals and three assists. The Purple Roses have other scoring threats in sophomore forward Seneca Kinn-Gurzo (10 goals, eight assists) and junior midfielder Kathleen Dailey (six goals, one assist).
“We do know one of their seniors (Gates), we’re looking out for her,” Garzon said. “She’s their high scorer so we’re really going to have to shut her down, that’s our motive.”
But Morris Catholic isn’t without its own scoring threats. Garzon had a hat trick in the Crusaders’ 4-1 victory over Montclair Kimberley in the Non-Public North B final. Senior midfielder Taylor Shannahan has seven goals and 15 assists and sophomore forward Stella Johnson has 10 goals and 14 assists.
“We’ve had the opportunity to have every one on the team contribute so far,” Garzon said. “We have a pretty spread-out attack from the younger freshmen all the way to the seniors. Most of us have scored, we have pretty spread-out power, we have a lot of speed and aggressiveness so hopefully those weapons will help us out.”
The Morris Catholic defense is no slouch either. The Crusaders have eight shutouts thanks to its back line and goalkeeper Jeannie Kivlon.
“We have a fantastic defense, they have really stepped it up,” Garzon said. “They’re a fantastic unit, they’re aggressive, fast, smart players and they definitely know how to control the ball and use their footwork.”
The Crusaders have a difficult task in front of them when they face off against St. Rose today at 5:30 p.m. at The College of New Jersey, but if this season has been any indication, Morris Catholic will be up for the challenge. Since falling to Kinnelon in the Morris County Tournament quarterfinals, the Crusaders have gone 7-1-1 and have allowed only 10 goals.
And despite the roster changes since last season and the loss of All Daily Record Player of the Year Sobierajski, the Crusaders believe that this season’s group of girls can bring home their second straight state title.
“We’re really picking it up in the sense that we lost Tara last year,” Garzon said. ” She was a major asset and this year we’ve realized we have to put our hearts into it in order to make up for the loss. I have faith in these girls, we have an awesome team and I really think we can win it all.”