NORTH PLAINFIELD – The Governor Livingston High School girls soccer team took its share of lumps during the regular season, playing in the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division against state powers like Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Westfield and Cranford. That’s enough to make any team question its existence.
And while the Highlanders had been able to hold their own in recent seasons, things didn’t go as smoothly this year, as Governor Livingston entered Monday’s opening-round of the state tournament at 7-10, with its string of four straight winning campaigns in jeopardy of being broken.
But as was clearly evident by Monday’s performance, the battle-hardened Highlanders should find the NJSIAA Central Group II Tournament a relative breeze compared to what they’re used to, as senior Amanda Bostwick notched two goals and classmate Kristen Splaine added a goal and an assist to help power 10th-seeded Governor Livingston to a 4-1 victory over No. 7 North Plainfield at Krausch Field.
“I think that we’ve figured it out,” said Bostwick about her team’s regular-season difficulties. “We’re definitely pumped to make a run in the state tournament. And I think we can easily make a run because our conference competition is a different caliber than the state competition, so I think it’s very doable as long as we keep doing what we’re doing. There’s certain things you can’t do against Scotch Plains that you can do against teams like this, which will be beneficial for us.”
“It’s helped us in terms of being able to keep the ball a little bit better, versus high-pressing teams like Scotch Plains, Westfield and Cranford,” said Governor Livingston coach Mike Roof, whose team will play host to 15th-seeded Raritan in Thursday’s quarterfinals. “Those are games where we might have had to give up some possession and defend a little bit more, so we’ve learned how to defend for long stretches and try to create with less. We’re not going to run into that situation, as of now. We’re going to have more time on the ball and we’re going to have more time to create and take space and try to link up. It’s going to free us up to be able to do things we want to do with a little more comfort and a little bit more confidence.”
Governor Livingston looked like a team Monday whose win-loss record really did mean nothing, as it had little trouble with the Canucks, who won 15 games, but many against the Group I programs and tiny private schools that populate the Skyland Conference’s Mountain Division.
Splaine wasted little time getting GL going, knocking in a Sarah Pasquale corner kick in the sixth minute, before a pair of Bostwick goals made it 3-0 with just over 13 minutes left in the opening period. Reilly Jankowski extended the Highlanders advantage to 4-0 in the 66th minute, knocking in a loose ball off a rebound.
“I’m glad we haven’t let our losing record get us down because now is the time to make a run,” said Bostwick, whose club outshot North Plainfield 19-2 on goal. “And I wouldn’t even trade our losing record for being in the lower division. I still appreciate the teams we played and respect the losses, because we did try hard. They’re weren’t bad losses because they’re all tough opponents.”
Of course, GL will have a few more tough opponents to deal with as it gets deeper in the state tournament. Even if the Highlanders are a better team for having gone through the UCC Watchung gauntlet, they will also have to overcome the memory of last year’s disappointing finish, a one-goal loss to Holmdel in the sectional final.
“I try to make that clear to the girls that this is a whole new season, starting with training the last few days working into this game,” said Roof, whose team could be in for a rematch with the Hornets if both teams advance to the semifinals “What happened to us last year, losing the final, obviously was unfortunate, but we’re now in a situation where we can start fresh.”
For North Plainfield, which finally broke through Monday with 17:38 left as senior Caitlin Gugliotta did a nice job finishing a breakaway, the Canucks are still trying to match the regular-season success they’ve had the past couple of years, as they’re still searching for their first state-tournament victory in about two decades
“Only a few select teams are able to end their seasons with a win,” North Plainfield coach Charlie Rowan said. “Unfortunately for us, it’s a loss in the states. We’re still looking for that one state-tournament win. But the girls played hard, they fought back, and I’m proud of them. We’re definitely moving in the right direction. It’s baby steps. Every year we’re a little bit better.”
Staff writer Simeon Pincus can be reached at CNGirlsSoccer@aol.com and on Twitter @SimeonPincus