Sandwiched between the Watchung Hills High School girls soccer team’s opening-day victory over Westfield and Monday’s meeting in the first round of the NJSIAA North 2 Group IV Tournament has been a challenging season, one that included key injuries, some growing pains in the Skyland Conference Delaware Division and a controversial midseason coaching change. And while the Warriors’ tribulations might have resulted in a No. 15 seed, what the second-seeded Blue Devils saw Monday was anything but a team content with simply making the state tournament.
Mollie Wood and Sam DePinho scored goals, and keeper Lindsey Carroll turned in a masterful seven-save performance, as Watchung Hills scored the upset, blanking Westfield 2-0 at Kehler Stadium.
“We came together as a team a lot,” said Carroll, whose team will visit 10th-seeded Linden in Thursday’s quarterfinals. “This season has been really hard for us, and to show everyone that we just beat the No. 2 seed as the 15 seed is amazing.”
Carroll set the tone early, turning in a fantastic kick save on a point-blank one-on-one shot in the ninth minute after Jenna Helfand pickpocketed two defenders near the 18 and bore down on the sophomore keeper. Carroll, who missed six matches in the middle of the season – an absence that coincided with a losing streak – turned in several brilliant stops. The defense, which was without start back Remy Borinsky, who was sitting out after taking a red card in the Warriors’ previous game, did a great job getting Carroll’s back, the keeper said, allowing her to be more aggressive.
“She had the concussion early in the year, and since then she’s been a little more tentative,” said Watchung Hills coach Dan Root, who praised the work of freshman Melanie Cunha, who was filling in for Borinsky despite not being a natural defender. “(Carroll) is afraid to get hit. We keep telling her we sympathize, but she needs to get out because that’s what she does well, she’s aggressive. And she was much more aggressive today and she was tremendous.”
Scoreless at halftime, with each team having several scoring chances in the opening half, Watchung Hills came out firing and finally broke through seven minutes in, as Wood knocked in an Ally Grunstein corner kick after a scramble in front to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead. DePinho capped it with 5:20 left, turning and blasting one into the net after gaining possession inside the 18.
For Westfield, which was without superstar Karli Sottung, who broke her ankle in last week’s regular-season finale, it was simply a case of being undermanned against a team that plays in the state’s top conference.
“We ran out of legs,” said Westfield coach Alex Schmidt, who has lost eight players, including six seniors, to injury, with five suffering ACL or MCL ailments. “Having eight girls injured put a lot more pressure on the younger girls in their first big state tournament game. It’s disappointing.”
Of course, fate didn’t do Westfield any favors, either, as the Blue Devils drew the short straw as a No. 2 seed having to face a team decidedly better than its power-point rating.
“I don’t know how they’re a 15 seed,” Schmidt said. “We knew they were going to be a tough team, they play in a tough conference, so it’s not like we disrespected them. First half, we had about 3-to-4 chances, but it doesn’t happen. It’s a state tournament, so the longer it’s 0-0, maybe the No. 2 seed gets a little nervous and maybe the 15 seed gets a little more energy.”