WEST LONG BRANCH – Only one word can be used to describe the run that the Shore Regional girls soccer team has been on since they moved to the Central Group I tournament: Dynasty.
Since 2012, no other team has been penciled into the winners circle of the bracket. The Blue Devils have been crowned sectional champions four consecutive seasons — each squad containing a different group of girls.
This year’s team was equipped with a young roster but experience never mattered. On Thursday night, Shore played liked seasoned veteran, holding off a gritty Metuchen team on their way to a 4-0 victory under the lights of Robert E. Feeny Field.
“I take it year by year,” Shore coach George Moutis said. “We have a few girls who have been here for four years and have held that trophy, which is a great feeling. I’m blessed to have all of this talent come in to play. It’s our system of play. We have one system, and we continue to play it.”
The Blue Devils ran the table during the first three games of the sectional tournament. Their high-powered offense had a 26-3 advantage over their opponents during that streak of games.
Thursday night was different for Shore. They had to grind out every goal that they put in net, especially the opening tally. The game was scoreless for the first 35 minutes of the contest, but that was before Katie Stephenson got a hold of a ball with her powerful right foot. Stephenson found open space and sent a dart past Emily Buchanan to give her team some confidence heading into halftime.
“I knew we needed something to pick us up,” Stephenson said. “I was looking to pass it off, but I saw I had space, so I just took it.”
Coach Moutis had his group looking like a different team once they re-entered the field for the second half. He noticed that Metuchen was playing with only one forward and made the adjustment. That created several open looks, which allowed his young forwards to begin rolling on all cylinders.
Senior Jessica Egan made sure her season stayed alive when she found the back of the net six minutes into the second half. Frankie McDonough put the game out of reach when she beat Buchanan for the third tally of the competition. McDonough, who is only a freshman, has been the leading scorer all year for Shore, but this goal may have been the biggest in her young career.
“I knew 2-0 is one of the toughest scores to keep,” McDonough said. “One of our other games we were up 2-0 and the other team came back. Once we got that third goal, I think we kind of knew we had it, but we wanted to continue to go strong.”
The Blue Devils’ offense had everything working, as Devon McDonough buried a goal from 35-yards out, to finishing off the scoring for the night. Shore may lack the experience on the offensive side of the ball, but they make up for it with their endless depth. Four players have reached double-digits in goals this season.
“I have great forwards to work with, I wouldn’t be able to do it without them,” Stephenson said about her teammates.”They draw a lot of attention and we work together. It’s a complete attack.”
Shore has a youthful offense, but the backline provides the proper leadership and experience for the Blue Devils. They limited the chances for Metuchen throughout the game, and when the Bulldogs did streak through, Katie Colagouri was there to make the stop. She finished the game with eight saves to shut the door on Metuchen and pick up the save.
“We have all played together since we were in third grade, probably around eight years old,” Colagouri said. “We trust each other so much and we know how the other plays. We all have complete confidence.”
Metuchen saw their season come to an end for the fourth straight year against Shore. Although the scoreboard says different, Metuchen gave the Blue Devils a run for their money. The Bulldogs brought a physical defense to West Long Branch and made sure their opponent didn’t get into a groove early in the competition.
“Our goal was to get back to this game and hopefully get it,” Metuchen coach Val Gazda said. “There’s always that chance you will have to go through Shore to get it. Our game plan was to play a tough first half, which we did. I’m proud of the way the kids stayed on game plan.”
Metuchen had to play a demanding schedule all season long. They faced a top-heavy Greater Middlesex Conference Blue Division. The division consisted of Spotswood, Wardlaw-Hartridge and Middlesex, who always give Metuchen a close game. Nine seniors will now depart the program without getting a taste of winning a sectional title, but they reached great heights during their time in high school. They brought their proud program to a higher ground and leave the team with something to build on.
“Everybody says ‘Okay Val you are going to the sectional final,” Gazda said. “It’s not a given. From midseason on they turned it on. That’s what I’m impressed with. It’s a bunch of kids who love the game of soccer. If you have to lose to somebody, let it be somebody who will possibly be going for the state championship.”