It was an unfortunate ending for West Morris (12-6-3). The Wolfpack were coming off an amazing road shootout victory against Scotch Plains to capture the soccer program’s first sectional state title in more than 15 years.
"They were good," West Morris coach Ken Rossi admitted. "I don't think we were intimidated. We lost a little momentum once they scored on the throw-ins. They are definitely a skilled team. They play great soccer. You can't take anything away from them. They finished. They were fast. Add that and the throw-in and I’ll be very surprised if they are not the best team in the state."
The Wolfpack were outshot, 13-4. They had no answers for Reyneke who stands over 6 feet tall and has long arms. Her sideline throws are as long as corner kicks and often more accurate. Even when she wasn’t in the offensive end, her throws constantly gave the Highlanders good field position. Her efforts gave high-scoring forwards Madison Holleran and Emma Sullivan numerous quality scoring opportunities. Rossi could not remember facing a soccer opponent with such a deadly and often indefensible weapon.
"You don't see that much," Rossi said. "We knew it was going to happen. We had a couple strategies and unfortunately. ... What are you going to do?"
The Wolfpack’s Julie Shields remembered playing Northern Highlands at a team camp.
"We knew that they had an athlete like that," Shields said. "We did our best to defend it. We practiced long balls but you can’t really prepare for something like that until you’re on the field."
The West Morris players didn't think that the grueling and emotional shootout victory against Scotch Plains that gave them the sectional title on Thursday had anything to do with Tuesday’s lopsided defeat.
"Beating Scotch Plains got us pumped up more," defender Megan Jurtschenko said. "We rose to the occasion to play an intense game. They were a very good, skilled team and we worked very hard to beat them and it prepared us even more for today."
A pair of injuries early in the game on the defensive end also hurt West Morris’ chances of making it competitive. In the 15-minute mark, West Morris' Amy McQuaide and Northern Highlands’ Molly Bascio clashed heads. McQuaide left with a possible concussion. A few minutes later, rhe Wolfpack’s Alanda Ketzler collided with a Highlanders’ forward and did not get up. Ketzler left the game with a leg injury. Neither player was able to return.
"Ketzler's a captain and she's the big leader of the team," Jurtschenko said. "Amy (McQuaide) was always good at winning the balls in the air. We missed her a lot on the field, too. We had a lot of people step up who haven't gotten a lot of minutes this year."
Northern Highlands scored an early goal on a fluke play generated by a Reyneke throw in. She was over 30 yards out on the left sideline when her toss grazed a West Morris defender, took an awkward bounce and found its way into the Wolfpack net just four minutes into the contest. If the ball had not touched a player on either team, the score would not have counted. However, Northern Highlands had a 1-0 advantage on what is considered an own goal.
The second goal of the game was also a long through by Reyneke that Sullivan was able to tap in with 10:24 left in the first half. A long throw also triggered the third goal of the half. Holleran gathered the ball after thwarting a West Morris clearing effort. She connected with 4:03 left.
It was clear that it would not be a good night for the Wolfpack. They spent much of the first half getting the ball out of their own zone and rarely found an opportunity to counterattack for an open shot.
"We were trying to push our whole team up to get corner kicks and free kicks because were good at scoring on them," Shields said. "Once that we had, we tried to put our whole team in the box."
West Morris did have an occasional opportunity. The closest it came to a goal occurred 20 minutes into the second half on a long ball cracked by Kristy Cotter. Northern Highlands’ goalkeeper Brooke Holle misjudged the ball. It bounced over her head and looked like it would land inside the crossbar but instead sailed just inches over the top.
It wouldn’t have been enough. Northern Highlands notched three goals in the second half to pad its lead for the eventual 6-0 victory.
Rossi said it would take his team about 45 minutes to shake off the loss but most of the players were composed and in decent spirits afterwards. There's no shame to losing to such a high-caliber team as long as the players felt they gave the proper effort. The Wolfpack vowed not to let the disappointing loss spoil a fruitful and rewarding season.
"I think we earned everything we got," Shields said. "We worked through summer _ the entire season up until now. We worked so hard. I'm really proud of our team."
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