MADISON _ Kerrianne McClay is buckled in.
McClay, a junior midfielder, is ready for the fiercest September in the history of the Madison field hockey program. In the first month of the season, the Dodgers, who blanked Bridgewater-Raritan 3-0 in their opener on Tuesday, Sept. 5, will clash with Eastern, Warren Hills and Oak Knoll.
"This is so exciting," McClay said. "Today's win was big for us. Our schedule is stacked at the beginning. It's going to be nerve wracking but this is what we need. You've got to play the best to be the best so..."
The prospect of playing the state's elite thrills McClay, responsible for Madison's second goal and an assist versus the Panthers, who have made a habit of landing in the Group IV final. She intends to do her part, using her limitless energy to ensure Madison, which returns nine starters, puts forth its best effort.
"I love energy and I have a lot of it," McClay said. "I try to pump everyone up. If a goal is scored against us, I'm like 'Come on. Let's go.' If players have their heads down and someone is jogging, everyone follows."
Obviously, McClay will serve as a leader and keep the Dodgers, Group I runners-up to Haddonfield last fall, motivated and focused during their challenging stretch of games.
And, of course, so will senior forward-midfielder Elizabeth Romano, who also notched a goal and an assist against Bridgewater-Raritan. Romano, a captain, was pleased with how Madison performed despite the absence of Sarah Cox and Emma Yousey, both sidelined with a broken foot.
"This is a good start," Romano said. "We had two important players out. They were major shoes to fill. Everyone stepped up. We worked well together."
Madison coach Ann Marie Davies made several adjustments to the lineup, including putting Jen Conroy in the mix. McClay, a center back, was moved to the midfield. Caroline Blount, credited with a stick save, excelled at center back.
"We shifted some kids," Davies noted. "The two players who are out are a big part of the team. We put in some JV kids, too, and they did the job. The defense was very organized. We adjusted well to adversity."
Romano's goal 12:57 into the first half gave the Dodgers a 1-0 edge. Sage Geyer assisted on Madison's initial goal of the 2017 season.
McClay put the ball across the goal line next, converting off a corner with 4:07 remaining before halftime. The corner play didn't materialize as planned but the score was as significant as any other.
"It was kind of an accident," McClay said. "It didn't go as planned. Elizabeth got the insert from Maddie Farrell and I was on the right side. Bridgewater was flying and trailing left. That left me open."
McClay found the ball on her stick and sent it into the left side from two feet out.
Geyer capped the first-half scoring with 2:35 left after receiving a pass from McClay. Realizing she did not have an open shot, McClay drove toward the baseline and fed Geyer, who swept the ball in.
The three goals were all that were needed. Bridgewater-Raritan, however, made things interesting with a flurry of corners. The Panthers were awarded six in a row in a span of 3:22 that commenced with 9:54 remaining.
Madison's veteran corner unit, comprised of Romano, Blount, Geyer and McClay, toiled to preserve the shutout. Goalie Nicole Ducey (6 saves) fared well under pressure.
"We have the same players defending corners as last year so I wasn't nervous," Romano said.
McClay wasn't as calm yet had confidence she and her teammates would deny the visitors.
"We have strong assets on defensive corners," McClay said. "We got the ball out. I was nervous at the time. It was hot today and we needed time to catch our breath."
There will be not such opportunity on Saturday, Sept. 9 when Madison travels to Eastern for a 5:30 p.m. matchup. Every moment will be critical.
Bridgewater-Raritan coach Alyssa Frazier commended the Dodgers for their "stick skills and great athletes." The Panthers graduated standout midfielders Sarah Dimock and Ally Mastroianni and will certainly come around.
"Sarah and Ally did many things for us on offense and defense," Frazier said. "They were the flyer and trail on defensive corners and key on offensive corners. We have good athletes on our team but they're not all field hockey players. We hustle and play with heart. Madison is tough to beat. We were just trying to put one in when we had all the corners. We didn't capitalize on their mistakes. They were ready. We have some work to do."
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