With an undefeated record and now a Union County Tournament championship under its belt, it might be hard to believe a season with this much success was anything but a certainty for the Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School girls soccer team.
After losing 11 seniors, including eight starters, to graduation, the Raiders’ prognoses for 2013 was anyone’s guess. Sure, Scotch Plains-Fanwood is one of the area’s most perennially successful teams, a club that entered the year with seven county titles in the past eight seasons and hadn’t had a losing record this century. But having lost so much talent to graduation, and with a wholly inexperienced squad returning, things could have turned out a lot differently.
“We were very inexperienced and we didn’t look very good in the preseason,” said Raiders coach Kevin Ewing, whose team improved to 17-0-1 after Sunday night’s 1-0 victory over Cranford at Kean university to win its fourth straight county title. “We were a work in progress. I knew there were talented kids on the team, but we needed them to step up into certain roles. Seniors stepping up into leadership roles they didn’t have in the past and some underclassmen realizing they need to step up and be players and leaders on the field as well.”
The Raiders have done just that, and a new crop of stars have emerged. Offensively, the catalyst has been junior Tori Baliatcio, who scored just seven goals last season, playing a decent amount of minutes, but has taken charge and tallied 17 goals and six assists so far this year, including the game winner Sunday.
The midfield has been led by attacking center mid Katherine Cunningham, who has tallied seven goals and six assists, along with defensive center-mid junior Jodi Cornwell, who has taken control of the midfield after serving as a defender last season and, Ewing said, gets a lot of credit for the Raiders’ success.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood does have a mainstay in senior central defender Alyssa Riporti. Ewing said if the four-year letter winner and three-year starter isn’t the best center-back in the state, she’s one of them, which is high praise from a man not known for hyperbole.
And though he might not have been willing to admit it in early September, Ewing knew what his team was capable of if it all came together.
“I can’t say enough how proud I am of these kids,” said Ewing, who said, despite the powerhouses he’s coached in the past, said this is the first time he’d had an undefeated squad this late in the year – the Raiders fell to Governor Livingston 2-0 Tuesday for its first setback. “At the beginning of the season I told them they had a good chance to win the Union County championship, but they said I was crazy.”
Central seeks repeat
Hunterdon Central is one win away from its second straight Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament championship after Saturday’s decisive 5-0 victory over Belvidere in the semifinals.
The 1A-seeded Red Devils will face 1B seed Newton for the crown at 2 p.m. Saturday at Newton High School.
A show of class
Hats off to first-year coach Matt Maurella and North Hunterdon, which displayed a fantastic bit of sportsmanship last Tuesday, despite an otherwise rough season.
Montgomery senior Megan Pellizzari was projected to finally get a chance to start on varsity for this season, but blew out her ACL in May. Thanks to the Lions, Pellizzari’s senior season wasn’t a total loss, as they allowed her to start the game, dribble uncontested down the field and fire one into an open net for her first and only varsity goal.
To keep things even, the Cougars returned the favor on the ensuing kickoff, allowing North’s Cristina Walton to score uncontested to even things on the scoreboard.
Congratulations to Bound Brook, which finally got in the win column Friday with a 3-2 double-overtime victory over New Brunswick. The rebuilding Crusaders had started the season 0-16.
And congrats to Watchung Hills on its inspired 4-2 win over Somerville on Friday. It was the Warriors’ first victory over a team with a winning record since opening day when they rallied for a 2-1 topping of Westfield.
The state tournament brackets are scheduled to be released Wednesday, with the tournament slated to get underway with first-round games Monday.