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Top-seeded Colonials aiming to repeat

Morristown had a dream season last fall highlighted by Morris County Tournament and sectional titles.

The Colonials, whose MCT crown ended a 25-year drought, are on a tear once again in the fall of 2017 and have won their first seven games.

On Monday, Sept. 25, Morristown (7-0) was awarded the No. 1 seed for the MCT and is, no doubt, anxious to tack on another championship.

The second seed went to Randolph, which is 6-0-1. Madison and Jefferson, both 6-1, were the third and fourth seeds, respectively. Rounding out the top 10 are Morristown-Beard (5), Mendham (6), West Morris (7), Chatham (8), Boonton (9) and Pequannock (10).

Seeds were awarded based on winning percentage and not votes by coaches.

Preliminary-round games must be played by Thursday, Sept. 28. First-round games must be completed by Tuesday, Oct. 3. Quarterfinals must be contested on or before Saturday, Oct. 7.

Boonton High School will be the site for the semifinals and final. The semis are slated for Saturday, Oct. 14 at 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. The title game will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m.

Morristown nipped West Morris 1-0 in the 2016 final on a goal by Callie Sundin. The Colonials earned the right to compete for the championship by shocking five-time defending champion Madison in the semifinals.

PRELIMINARY ROUND

No. 17 Morris Knolls at No. 16 Montville

No. 21 Morris Hills at No. 12 Mount Olive

No. 20 Parsippany Hills at No. 13 Roxbury

No. 18 Mountain Lakes at No. 15 Parsippany

No. 19 Butler at No. 14 St. Elizabeth

FIRST ROUND

Winner of No. 17 Morris Knolls/ No. 16 Montville at No. 1 Morristown

Winner of No. 18 Mountain Lakes/No. 15 Parsippany at No. 2 Randolph

Winner of No. 19 Butler/No. 14 St. Elizabeth at No. 3  Madison

Winner of No. 20 Parsippany Hills/No. 13 Roxbury at No. 4 Jefferson

Winner of No. 21 Morris Hills/No. 12 Mount Olive at No. 5 Morristown-Beard

No. 11 Whippany Park at No. 6 Mendham

No. 10 Pequannock at No. 7 West Morris

No. 9 Boonton at No. 8 Chatham

Cougars take fifth MCT crown

RANDOLPH _ Lena Parsch of Chatham was in a Morris County Tennis Tournament final as a freshman, vying for top honors at third singles, but that moment seemed so long ago.

Parsch, who now plays second singles, got a second chance as a senior and wasn't going to be satisfied going home as the runner-up.

The last one on the courts at County College of Morris, Parsch battled the heat and coped with the slowdown tactics of Kinnelon's Agatha Malinowski and prevailed, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, to take the second singles title on Sunday, Sept. 24. The victory was doubly sweet because the Cougars garnered their fifth consecutive MCT crown by scoring 20 points, four more than second-place Kinnelon.

"I'm so happy. This is so nice," Parsch said. "I was here as a freshman. Now I'm back again. It's deja vu. I gave it my all. I'm so glad to finally win."

Parsch planned to celebrate by eating ice cream at Magic Fountain in Summit. The treat was well deserved as Parsch survived some rough spots during the three-set match.

The 90-degree temperatures affected Parsch a bit and Malinowski got to her with long pauses, leaving her frustrated.

"I was trying to stay focused but it wasn't easy," she said. "The slow play bothered me and I didn't want to fall into that. I decided I had to stay with my game. I needed to keep my feet moving. If I stopped, I wouldn't be able to focus."

The best parts of Parsch's game are her forceful serves, accurate groundstrokes and approach shots, which were effective for much of the match.

Chatham coach James Cai was elated to stretch the string of championships to five. Saturday's quarterfinals concluded with the Cougars, Mendham, Kinnelon and Mountain Lakes tied for first with 13 points apiece.

"Every year is dfferent," Cai said. "There's different competition. The girls were calm and didn't worry about the four-way tie going into the semis and finals. They played their games."  

The Colts' Britany Lau repeated at first singles, dispatching Seden Agar of Mendham, 6-0, 6-1. The winner at third singles was Chatham's Lana DePasquale, who defeated Marguerite Munley of Mendham, 6-0, 6-1. At first doubles, the Cougars notched their third victory as Julia Gallop and Libby White beat Allie Gregorek and Emma Matkiwsky of Mountain Lakes, 6-3, 6-4.

Lau, a junior, had faced Agar in a USTA Tournament last December and knew she'd have to work for every point.

"Seden is very good," Lau said. "It was close."

This time, Lau cruised, winning the first nine games of the title match. Agar took her lone game in the fifth game of the second set. Lau displayed a strong slice and forehand. Her serve initially was off, she said, but she "got past it."

How did it feel to claim a second title?

"Pretty good. I'm not sure how to describe it," Lau said. "It's a good feeling to know I'm one of the best in the county. I was a little stressed then I calmed down. I hope to do more over the rest of the season and carry it into next year."

DePasquale was at first doubles last fall. She toiled to improve in all aspects of her game and moved into a singles position.

"Lana sharpened her game, especially the mental part," Cai said. "Her overall focus is so much better. Lana changed her mentality so much. She's always positive."

At second doubles, Montville's Jane Meng and Gabby Weiner rallied past Amanda Pechock and Tess Welch of Mendham, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. Meng and Weiner ignored the fact that they were unseeded and wound up in the final.

"We had nothing to lose," Meng said. "We've played good matches against some very good doubles teams. We weren't going to let anyone intimidate us, even Chatham, the top seed."

Dropping the first set didn't perturb Meng, a senior, and Weiner, a junior. They were used to it after losing the opening set in their semifinal and settled in. Meng was steady at the baseline and Weiner came through at the net.

"Falling behind motivated us," Weiner said. "We play well together. We just wanted to have fun."

Weiner and her teammate were proud to leave CCM with medals. Weiner wore a plastic medal purchased at Party City for good luck, the same as she has done for much of the season. The one she wore Sunday said "Awesome" and that's exactly what they were.

  • Published in Tennis
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Montville is doubly good in MCT

RANDOLPH _ Montville's Danielle Langer and Leah Mazie assumed they'd be on the outside of the chain-link fence cheering on their teammates on the second day of the Morris County Girls Tennis Tournament.

Instead, Langer and Mazie, the Mustangs' unseeded first doubles team, will be on the court at County College of Morris battling it out in the semifinals in hopes of gaining a title.

Langer and Mazie, both seniors, buzzed through their preliminary, first round and quarterfinal matches versus Mount Olive, Mendham and Villa Walsh on Saturday, Sept. 23 to advance to the semis.

"I'm excited, really excited," Langer said. "This is my first year on varsity. It was my first time playing here so I was extremely nervous. We played so well together."

Mazie felt that being the underdogs was intimidating. However, once she and Langer "got our rhythm, we began knocking games off."

The highlight of the day for Langer and Mazie was ousting third-seeded Lauren Alpert and Grace Hassel of Mendham, 10-8. Five days earlier, the Mustangs duo was on the losing end, falling to Alpert and Hassel, 2-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5-7).

Langer and Mazie came from behind to pull off the upset, recovering from a 4-1 deficit. They evened the score 4-4 then 5-5 and closed out the match by winning five of the next eight points.

"We had a good chance," Langer said. "We were close in the last match. We know how they play and they knew us. It went back and forth. Out of nowhere, our volleys were great."

Mazie relished getting revenge and said "We were out to beat them. We were ready."

Montville's doubles teams had to be. They went into the tournament unseeded because coach Ken Sachs was unable to attend the seeding meeting. Sachs had to go to back-to-school night when the meeting was held. Only the Mustangs' singles players received seeds.

The doubles teams, therefore, had no choice but to put in top-notch efforts. Montville's second doubles team, comprised of Jane Meng and Gabrielle Weiner, also a landed a berth in the semifinals despite being unseeded. Meng and Weiner stunned top-seeded Catherine Healy and Elana Tognola of Chatham 10-5 in their second match.

"It's really neat," Sachs said. "For them to come in and do what they did is incredible. It's rare. I really thought we'd be going home early and that no one would be playing on Sunday. I have all very nice kids. I've coached 101 teams in many different sports and this one is one of my favorites. They're all so sweet."

It was a highly memorable day for the two Montville seniors. Mazie attended the MCT as an alternate last fall. Langer did not make the trip to either site in Randolph but texted with teammates about what was going on. That's why actually competing was special.

Langer and Mazie have excellent chemistry and work well together.

"I usually set Danielle up," Mazie said. "I hit a deep crosscourt shot and Danielle puts it away. I'm pretty good at passing the net player. I like to hit it down the line."

By their third match, Langer and Mazie were starting to become fatigued. Sachs urged them on.

"Mr. Sachs kept telling us to play through it and move our feet," Langer said. "It was really hot and there's no shade on the court. He told us 'Win and you can go home happy.'"

Simi Rao, a freshman from Mendham, made a stellar debut in the MCT, making it to the semifinals in the second singles bracket.

"I'm excited. I was just hoping for the best," said the 14-year-old Rao. "I didn't think about the outcomes. I gave my all today."

Rao, a strong server with a reliable forehand, began playing tennis three years ago. Her brother, Zachin, who played second singles while at Mendham, was her inspiration. He now plays club tennis at Tulane and conducts clinics.

The younger Rao was a gymnast since the age of 2. She participated in gymnastics seriously for eight years and gave up the sport at 12.

"I was scared about the injuries," Rao said. "I went so long without and injury and wanted a change. I really didn't like it anymore. I lost interest."

Rao pursued tennis with passion. Over the summer, she attended clinics for five hours a day then worked out with her brother for two or three hours. During the season, Rao puts in 12 to 15 hours beyond what she does with the team.

Music is another one of Rao's interests. She plays the flute and the piccolo and was first chair for the flute in middle school. She enjoys painting with watercolors, too.

Rao felt she didn't play well in her MCT matches. She attributed her wins to "consistency."

Following Saturday's matches, Rao planned to go home and restring her racket.

"The strings are ready to break," she said. "They're not tight enough so I don't have as much topspin. I can't get the ball to go far enough on some shots." 

After the first day of play, defending champion Chatham, Kinnelon, Mendham and Mountain Lakes were in a four-way tie. Each team had 13 points.

***Photo gallery below***

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2017 MCT Soccer seeding

PARSIPPANY _ Morris Knolls (4-0-1) was voted the top seed at the Morris County Tournament seeding meeting held on Thursday, Sept. 21 at Parsippany High School.

Roxbury (3-1) captured the second seed, West Morris (5-1) the third and Morris Catholic (6-1) was seeded fourth. Mountain Lakes, Chatham, Mendham and Morristown round out the top eight.

Preliminary-round games must be played by Sunday, Sept. 24. First-round games are scheduled for Oct. 1 and the quarterfinals must be played at Oct. 8, all on the fields of the higher seeds.

The semifinals are scheduled for Oct. 15 and the final will be held on Oct. 21.

Morris County Tournament Bracket

(preliminary and first-round games)

Winner of No. 17 Pequannock at No. 16 Jefferson plays at No. 1 Morris Knolls

Winner of No. 24 Butler at No. 9 Hanover Park plays at winner of No. 25 Dover at No. 8 Morristown

Winner of No 21 Whippany Park at No. 12 Parsippany Hills plays No. 5 Mountain Lakes

Winner of No. 20 Morris Hills at No. 13 Madison plays at No. 4 Morris Catholic

Winner of No. 19 Kinnelon at No. 14 Villa Walsh plays at No. 3 West Morris

Winner of No. 22 Mount Olive at No. 11 Randolph plays at No. 6 Chatham

Winner of No. 23 Morris Tech at No. 10 Montville plays winner of No. 26 St. Elizabeth at No. 7 Mendham

Winner of No. 18 Parsippany at No. 15 Morristown-Beard plays No. 2 Roxbury

  • Published in Soccer
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Knolls rallies past Gaels

ROXBURY _ Down a game versus Roxbury and battling to close out the second game, Morris Knolls did not let doubt creep in.

The Golden Eagles had two match points but the Gaels managed to stay alive. Morris Knolls closed out the critical game on Brooke Herman's kill and then gained a seven-point lead in the decisive game.

Morris Knolls saw its advantage dwindle but went on to prevail 2-1 over Roxbury on Tuesday, Sept. 19. It was the first time since 2013 that the Golden Eagles, who triumphed 22-25, 27-25 and 25-22, have defeated the Gaels.

"We came in really wanting to win," said Morris Knolls libero Michelle Slomkowski. "At practice, we scrimmaged and worked on being in close matches. We stayed positive when we were down a few points. We heard each other and had each other's backs. We were motivated."

The second game was certainly trying. However, in the decisive game, the Golden Eagles (3-2) likely were feeling confident after pulling ahead, 21-14, on a series of errors by Roxbury. The Gaels then scored five of the next seven points and got within four, 23-19. Again, Morris Knolls dug deep and capped the match with a kill by Meghan Torkos.

"The girls responded to adversity," Golden Eagles coach Jolyn Veres said. "It got pretty intense. We encouraged them and helped them push through. Roxbury came on strong and we were finally able to shut the door. It's hard to pull away from Roxbury. You have to play every point and play until the whistle."

After it dropped the first game, Morris Knolls, which missed a lot of serves, steeled itself for a hard-fought second game.

"We told ourselves we could do it," said Slomkowski, who finished with 33 digs. "We said 'The set's ours' and 'We have it.'"

Roxbury coach Anthony McMichael felt the match, as always, came down to runs.

"The team with more consistent runs has success," McMichael said. "We had runs in the first game but couldn't get on a roll in the other two. Volleyball is a momentum sport, a rhythm sport. We were two evenly matched teams but they captured the rhythm better." 

Christi Conroy had 12 kills, a block and an ace for Morris Knolls while Lily Aasmaa recorded seven kills, 20 digs and two aces. Jackie Hyer contributed 11 assists, seven digs and one ace. Herman had nine service points and Katie Gear added three kills, 12 digs, three aces and six service points.

Jenna Shirkey, the Gaels' setter, was proficient at serving and running the offense. She had 19 assists and nine digs. Amber Chen had nine kills. Quinn Longo had 16 digs for Roxbury (3-2). 

Chatham denies Mustangs

MONTVILLE _ Chatham goalie Abby Walrond was in pain for much of the first half of the Cougars' game versus Montville.

It wasn't physical, however. Walrond was watching and fretting and stressing over the absence of communication among her teammates. Although isolated while protecting the goalcage, Walrond was willing to take the blame for the eerie silence.

"The communication was dead," Walrond said. "No one was talking. I heard nothing. It was my fault and the captains' fault."

As a result, Chatham sputtered before knocking in two second-half goals - one by Ava Healy, the other by Charlotte Buckman - to shut out Montville 2-0 on Saturday, Sept. 16.

The low-key approach to the game concerned Cougars coach Kaitlin Leyden as well. Leyden couldn't going on with her squad which has not surrendered a goal since falling to Morristown 6-0 on opening day.

"In the first half, we were slow," Leyden said. "Feet got in the way. We were definitely a little off. Maybe it's because it's morning. Maybe because it's Saturday. 

"The girls didn't let the first half determine the outcome. They made plays happen after halftime. They saw the spaces. I really liked that we picked it up in the second half. The communication was better. We passed well. No one gave up."

Healy, a junior forward, struck first for Chatham, sending the ball over the head of Mustangs goalie Sam Conrad 11:35 into the second half. Senior midfielder Charlotte Buckman assisted on the goal. Buckman had a score of her own with 2:50 remaining, tapping the ball in from the post. Sarah Goodheart set up Buckman's goal.

"In the first half, we were being quick and not looking up for the pass," said Lauren Mumby, whose play in the midfield buoyed the Cougars (3-1-1). "We got free hits from the side, made our cuts better and drew defenders out."

Fortunately, the defense was on task for the majority of the game. Walrond, freshman sweeper Charlotte Hamilton and Marissa Sullivan stood out on "D." Hamilton has been superb since moving up from JV one game into the season.

"Charlotte gets really low and is able to shift her stick to reverse and go strong side," Mumby said. "She follows the ball and, when she gets it, checks to see who's open for a pass."

Hamilton is delighted to be helping the varsity and considers her teammates to be "super awesome." She noted that the Cougars quickly accepted her and she wants to make them proud.

Montville (2-3) couldn't get its offense going, either, and had only six shots on goal.

"The game, in general, was frustrating," Aimee Vizzuso said. "We didn't play our game. We were nervous. Chatham is great competition and we were a little timid. We didn't control the game. We needed to be more aggressive."

Conrad (12 saves) was a bright spot in goal for Montville. Defenders Ange Abbott and Emilee Vizzuso were strong. Ally Yu, normally a midfielder, started at forward and created the majority of the Mustangs' scoring opportunities.

Leyden looks forward to seeing Chatham grow and become more consistent.

"Once our momentum starts going, this team will surprise teams that might underestimate us," she said. "We have to keep pushing."

Walrond also feels Chatham is highly capable and will be a force in the county and state tournaments.

"We always try to be upbeat and never lower our heads or stomp our feet," Walrond said. "We just say 'Let's kill it at practice' or 'Let's kill it at our next game.' There's never a moment where we doubt ourselves. This team is capable of anything and we want it more than anyone else."

A first for VW's Mehmel

PARSIPPANY _ Villa Walsh's Morgan Mehmel established no grand plan for the start of the season.

Mehmel, a junior, simply set out to run hard and "to feel it out" in the first Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Small Schools batch race at Central Park on Tuesday, Sept. 12. Of course, she'd give her best effort but never dreamed of winning.

Mehmel ran much of the race with teammate Hope Crann and surprised herself, finishing first in the afternoon's second girls race in 20:11.02. In the first race, Mountain Lakes' Izzi Gengaro prevailed with a time of 19:49.32.

"I won so this is very exciting," Mehmel said. "All the girls in the race were amazing. I was with the pack at the beginning and wanted to see if I could stick with them. I wanted to see how it would go. At a point, I said 'Wait, I think I can do this.' The last mile I picked it up. I went for it."

Never had Mehmel won a varsity race. She recalled being first one other time - in a junior varsity 600-meter run as a freshman.

"The time isn't as good as I wanted but it's the start of the season so it's fine," said Mehmel, a Bernardsville resident who competes in cross country and winter and spring track. "I work out with Hope and she was with me. It was great to have her there."

Villa Walsh coach Mary Ehmann didn't expect Mehmel to lead the pack and, ultimately, triumph but was pleased by the result. The Vikings had five runners in the top 10 (Crann, Mia Cuttone, Sarah Hanifin and Julia Collum) and took four of the top seven spots. Crann and Collum are sophomores and Hanifin and Collum are freshmen.

"I'm very happy for Morgan," Ehmann said. "I didn't expect it. I told her 'If you feel like it, go.' We haven't tapered down yet. Morgan is determined and enthusiastic. She's motivated. She did well."

From the age of 3 until eighth grade, Mehmel participated in ballet. She feels that certain elements of ballet have helped with running.

"There's a lot of discipline needed for dance," she noted. "And, stretching, too."

Next week, Villa Walsh will go against Mountain Lakes, which took four of the top eight spots in the first girls race.

"I'm worried about them," Ehmann said. "That's our true test. They've always been our toughest competition."

Gengaro, a senior, came in just ahead of Kinnelon standout Hannah Relovsky (20:96.41). She found the new course at Central Park challenging, especially the final kilometer, which is uphill.

"I felt pretty good," Gengaro said. "It's good to know the course and for the team to run well. The hill at the end was a little tough. I just want the team to continue to get stronger."

New to the Lakers' squad is Gengaro's twin sister, Sophia, who left behind soccer after tearing her ACL twice.

"It's fun being on the team with my sister," Izzi Gengaro said. "I've been training with her a little bit."

Kate Bernauer of Parsippany was third and Ally Jin of Mountain Lakes was fourth. The Colts, sectional champions last fall, had three runners among the top six.

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***

Kroszer sparks Bombers

MOUNTAIN LAKES _ Brooke Olsson's objective this season is to score one goal per game.

By doing so, Olsson, junior forward, hopes she can alleviate some of the angst felt by the Boonton field hockey team last fall. Six of the Bombers' losses were by one goal and they lingered in the players' minds for too long.

It's only two games into the 2017 season and that's early but, thus far, Olsson has kept her word.

Olsson's goal off a reverse chip with 6:12 remaining capped the scoring for Boonton when it defeated neighboring Mountain Lakes 4-2 on Friday, Sept. 8. Nicole Kroszer added a pair of goals and Kelly Mollahan also converted.

"We lost by one a lot," Olsson said. "When that happened, I always felt we could have done better. I want to leave games feeling satisfied. I don't want to lose by a goal."

Kroszer, another junior, a midfielder, agreed. She found no joy or sense of achievement in one-goal setbacks, even against top-notch teams. Without some of those losses, the Bombers, who finished 9-11, likely would  have been over .500.

"I felt so defeated," Kroszer said. "We were so close so many times. We needed the third and fourth goals to push us over the edge today."

Boonton has triumphed in both of its games this season. Kroszer put in a penalty-stroke goal in double overtime to lift the Bombers over Parsippany Hills 24 hours earlier, averting a disappointing outcome.

"We had one senior last year and the rest were juniors and sophomores," Boonton coach Cindy Tserkis-Schlitt said. "We had the talent but not enough experience. We're trying to figure it out. We had a rough 15 minutes at the beginning of the Parsippany Hills game and picked it up. We dominated most of the second half and the overtimes.

"We've been spending a lot of time on offense. We're strong-minded defensively but not aggressive enough. There was too much caution. I asked them to step up."

The Bombers asserted themselves early versus the Lakers, who notched an impressive opening-day win over Newton courtesy of a first-half goal by Gianna Buonopane, getting scores from Mollahan, a junior, and Kroszer in a six-minute span. Mollahan connected 9:04 into the game, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead, after weaving her way past several defenders.

Macara Desai recorded Mountain Lakes' first goal 8:50 before halftime off a penalty stroke. Kroszer knocked the ball into the left side of the goalcage 11:31 into the second half, boosting Boonton's advantage to 3-1. The Lakers were awarded another penalty stroke with 11:08 left and they capitalized. Desai came through again, going upper left, to leave Mountain Lakes trailing, 3-2.

Prior to the second penalty stroke, Mountain Lakes (1-1) had five corners over a stretch of 1:02. The Lakers had another corner after the stroke, making for some tense moments for the Bombers.

"We were all pretty nervous (about the corners and stroke)," Kroszer said. "It was getting near the end of the game. We were just trying to get the ball out."

"I have faith in our defensive corners," Olsson said. "We didn't want overtime."

Goalie Charlie Wagner  was solid, making seven saves. Sophomore defender Lorraine Clark, also an ice hockey player, was at the core of the deep defense, coming up with three stick saves. Isabella Esposito had a stick save, too.

Clark, an all-conference first-team selection as a freshman, had 11 stick saves in 2016.

"Lorraine has great vision," Tserkis-Schlitt said. "She tucks into a corner and picks the ball off. She tracks it well and is patient. Lorraine is a smart player."

Senior center midfielder Makenna Sweeney put in a strong effort for Boonton as well and earned the praise of her coach.

"Makenna draws double teams all the time," Tserkis-Schlitt said. "She places the ball well, looks for feeds. She's very solid. Makenna is like a brick wall."

Olsson was elated by her reverse-chip goal, not only because it provided insurance but because she had been practicing it. Olsson took a shot just before scoring but it caromed off the goalie's pads.

"I missed. I just had to get it in," Olsson said. "This was my first reverse-chip goal. I usually do a reverse sweep. I'm really glad to win. It made everyone so happy."

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW*** 

Madison blanks Bridgewater

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."

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***

 

Feng retains lead; Alex falters, recovers

BEDMINSTER _ Shanshan Feng is not one bit concerned with leaderboards.

Feng, of China, like all golfers competing in the U.S. Open over the last few days at Trump National Golf Course, has plenty of opportunities to peek at the standings as she moves from hole to hole. She doesn't, however. Feng, the leader at 207 - 9-under after three rounds -  just keeps driving, chipping and putting, oblivious to the posted scores. 

“I just want to know about my score and I don’t care about the others,” she said. “I’m just competing with myself. I’ll focus on my own game and let’s see what happens.”

That unwillingness to peek has served Feng, hoping to become the first start-to-finish winner, with no ties, since Hollis Stacy in 1977, very well. She is playing exceptional golf. Over her first 54 holes, Feng carded only one bogey - on No. 10 in the second round. Her third round concluded with a three-foot putt birdie.  

Right behind Feng are Hye-Jin Choi, a 17-year-old amateur, and Amy Yang, both at 208. Sung Hyun Park is in fourth at 210. American Cristie Kerr shot a 70 in the third round and has a total of 212 and is sharing eighth place with Spain's Carlota Ciganda. The lone New Jersey player, Marina Alex of Wayne, is in a four-way tie for 14th after recording a 73.

Feng said she felt a "little bit pressure" from being in the lead. When she captured her other major, the Wegman's LPGA Championship, in 2012, she came from behind and prevailed.

"I did pretty well under the pressure and then I started to hit the ball better, closer to the hole, so I had some birdie chances," she said. "Putting didn't really work today. I just couldn't get the line and the speed together. And then, I was like OK, let's go to Plan B."

Plan B entails putting the ball closer to the hole so she doesn't have to attempt lengthy putts. Feng, the bronze medalist at the Rio Olympics, also has a Plan C and that's "when I can't even make shots and try to hit them into the hole."

Should Feng wrap up the title on Sunday, July 16, she'd be the first player from China to win the U.S. Women’s Open. China's Alice “Fumie” Jo was victorious at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links.

Yang, of Korea, has come close to claiming the U.S. Open in recent years. She's been in the top three a trio of times in the last six years.

"I feel like I'm doing good, you know," said Yang, who vowed to be patient.  " I made a lot of solid shots out there, gave myself a lot of opportunities and I saved really good pars out there. I'm looking forward to playing tomorrow."

Choi’s 208 is the lowest three-round total by an amateur in U.S. Women’s Open history. A victory by Choi will make her the second amateur to garner top honors at the U.S. Women’s Open. Catherine LaCoste was the first, winning the 1967 championship.

Alex endured a rocky start on Saturday, parring her first two holes before getting a double bogey and three putting for a bogey. She briefly righted herself, parring the fifth hole, then another double bogey ensued.

"It was a little crazy," Alex said. "I got off to a pretty poor start. I guess I was just nervous, to be honest. I don't know. It just all kind of hit me."

Birdies on the eighth and ninth holes put her back on track. Her second nine was steady as she had seven pars and two birdies.

"You don't realize how hard the holes can be when you are hitting it good and you are hitting the greens and everything feels great," Alex said. "You are grooving and then, when you're not, some of those are really, really difficult. There are a lot of hazards on the front nine. Most of the time, you don't notice them but then when you stray mentally, a lot of things creep into play, things you never really think about. I had to try and settle myself down and get restarted."

Feng, though, has yet to hit a rough patch.  

"Well, I think I have been doing well this week," Feng said. "Coming to this week, I didn't have any expectation at all. I just wanted to bring out my 'A' game. And then I think I did really well for the first three days and I'm going to stick to my game plan tomorrow. I just focus on my own game and let's see what happens."

***Marina Alex photos below***

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