When the West Morris and Mendham high school field hockey teams took the field on Tuesday afternoon, there was no shortage of motivation for either team.
As if the rivalry of playing a sister school wasn’t enough, the game would be a chance to take control of the NJAC National Division, a chance to make one last statement entering the Morris County Tournament seeding meeting Tuesday night and, finally, the chance to protect a perfect record.
Thanks to two goals from senior Emily Rubright, including her 100th career point, West Morris extended its record to 10-0 with a 2-1 victory.
“Going into the second half we let them (the players) know pressure is a privilege,” said West Morris coach Courtney Bertos. “That they had put themselves in this position to get a good seed in the county tournament and enter the second half of our conference season undefeated.”
West Morris controlled the game early, earning the first four penalty corners.
On the third attempt, senior Alyssa Perkalis sent a ball toward the front of the net, where Rubright was able to tap the ball over the outstretched leg of Mendham goalie Grace Tino to give her team a 1-0 lead.
The game seemed headed to halftime with a 1-0 score, before Mendham struck for a goal with just one second on the clock to steal the momentum going into the half. Junior Elizabeth Tolley found sophomore Sam DiMaio in front of the cage after a failed West Morris clearance and DiMaio was then able to send a shot past a quickly shifting defense and into the back of the net to tie the game at 1.
“That was vital,” said Mendham coach Robin Meyh. “We had a timeout about two minutes before that and we told the girls ‘it is do or die.’ We have to get to halftime either tied or winning and they picked up the pace and really worked together.”
The Minutemen looked poised to capitalize on the momentum about nine minutes into the second half when they used a penalty corner to threaten the Wolfpack defense.
But the West Morris back line held tough, stopping two shots from right in front of the goal line before finally clearing the ball.
From there West Morris took control of the attack, culminating in Rubright winning a scrum in front of the cage to net her second goal of the game, which would turn out to be the game-winner.
Rubright credited the experience of her team with the ability to stay composed and bounce back after giving up a goal so late in the first half.
“We have learned not to give up,” she said. “Teams have come back like that on us in the past years and we just knew we still had 30 minutes and we could turn the second half around.”
Both teams now turn their attention to the upcoming Morris County Tournament, a place where both coaches agreed a test like the one they had just finished would be helpful.
“Good competition at any point is vital to success,” Meyh said. “I think the timing was good. It highlighted a few things that we can work on and improve. It is a grounding experience and we are going to use it to our advantage.”
“The tournament is a new season,” Bertos said. “So this builds their confidence because they brought it for 60 minutes. We have a lot of young players stepping into substitution roles so this helps them with their confidence.”