Nicki Read has been a stalwart on defense for the Millville High School girls’ soccer team for the last few seasons, but her stats told a different story.
The senior came into the season with 11 career goals. She has two already this year in just three games, but now she’s finally playing up top after switching from defense.
“It just gives us some extra firepower, she has an amazing shot,” coach Brian Sloan said.
Read has long demonstrated her ability to nail shots from distance, but her ball skills are top-notch as well.
“She has that ability to go (one-on-one) with people,” Sloan said. “With Hannah (Daigle) up top, and with Mallory Chamberlain and Brooke Muhlbaier, the four of them are basically rotating up top, and it’s nice, they’re able to get some rest.”
The four forwards each have a special skill set, from Muhlbaier’s size, Daigle’s foot skills, Chamberlain’s speed and Read’s powerful shot.
“We have a really great offense this year,” Read said.
“Normally, we have more of a dominant defense. This year, with me, Hannah, (Mallory) and Brooke, teams are afraid, they’re like, ‘Cover her, no cover her.'”
But it’s the skill of the other defenders that allowed Read to move up.
“We’re able to do that because we have backs that are so strong,” Sloan said. “We had to have her in the back before. This year, we were able to move her up because of the backs we have.”
Read said she has bounced back and forth from a center midfield position to forward throughout her club soccer career, but her time on the back line in high school was a first.
She filled the role with poise, but she’s happy to be back up top.
“I like it better, because on defense I could score, but it’s easier to take control when I’m up top,” Read said.
Read has been battling injury this year and didn’t see as much time during Monday’s 1-0 overtime victory over Vineland.
“I had to play her sparingly, she wasn’t happy about it, but we have to keep her healthy, it’s a long season,” Sloan said.
Cumberland Christian knows it has a special player on its hands with junior Jada Fields.
The midfielder has seven goals and four assists through just five games this season. The Crusaders have scored 17 total goals, she’s had a hand, officially, in 11.
“She’s a smart player and she’s just so composed and confident,” coach Christine Bennett said. “She knows what she can do with the ball at her feet and she gets the job done.”
It’s not that her standout play on the field is anything new, she led the team to the Tri-State Christian Athletic Conference championship with an undefeated record last fall. This year, one thing is different though — Fields is now a captain. Bennett said wearing the armband has made a difference as well.
“I think she’s a little bit louder on the field,” Bennett said. “Her voice is stronger and more confident.”
The rivalry between Millville and Vineland is like nothing else. On Monday, freshmen got their first taste of what it’s like to face off against their cross-county foes.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking,” Vineland freshman forward Devin Fisher said.
But that’s not a bad thing. Even with a 1-0 overtime Fighting Clan loss, the players walked away with a memorable experience.
“I enjoyed it,” Fisher said. “It was a fun game.”
Millville’s Taylor Sergiacomi picked the perfect time to score her first career goal, netting the game-winner against Vineland on Monday.
It’s not that Sergiacomi hasn’t been playing well for the Thunderbolts for the last couple years, but the junior has been more of possession-minded midfielder, and she has her share of assists.
Still, the laser-precise strike from 35 yards out that might end up being the highlight goal of the season came as no surprise to those around the team.
“She takes these shots in practice and in scrimmages and has all these amazing shots, but hasn’t scored in high school yet,” Sloan said.
“We played Absegami and she had four assists, so that’s what she’s been, but we knew she had that shot in her.”
Patrick’s Top 5*
1. Millville (3-0): Toughed out an overtime win over Vineland to remain unbeaten.
2. Vineland (2-3-1): Shorthanded Fighting Clan need wins to earn a decent seed in the playoffs.
3. Delsea (2-4): Typically a second-half team, keep an eye on the Crusaders.
4. OLMA (3-3): Villagers are hovering at the .500 mark.
5. Schalick (2-5): Three straight losses for the Cougars.
Jada Fields, Cumberland Christian … 7
Tori Miller, Delsea … 6
Sarah Buchanan, OLMA … 4
Hannah Daigle, Millville … 4
Alex Reyes, Vineland … 4
Sarah Patrignani, Vineland … 3
Brianna Harper, Buena … 3
Dayna Patitucci, Cumberland … 3
Kate Riggins, Cumberland Christian … 3
Tiernny Wiltshire, Schalick … 3
Madison Hagerty, OLMA … 3
Shelby Money, Vineland … 1
McKenzie Taylor, Millville … 1
Hannah Seabert, Delsea … 1
Olivia Fields, Cumberland Christian … 1
Kelsey Sheppard, Cumberland Christian … 1
*Through Tuesday, based on reported results