DENVILLE _ "One! Two! Three!" counted the Mendham players surrounding coach Mark Lahey as he bent his elbows and touched his nose to the Morris Knolls turf again and again. The Minutemen coach was obliged to do pushups because his players put their heads to good use.
Julia Farina's overtime goal lifted Mendham to a 3-2 triumph over Morris Knolls in a regular season soccer game on Wednesday, Oct. 7.
Allie Lutz and Emma Ewing added goals to lift Mendham to 6-4-1 on the season and 4-0-1 in overtime games. Kelly Huber and Danica Lee scored goals for Morris Knolls (2-7-2).
Lahey's pushup prowess dates back to two years ago when the Minutemen were challenged when it came to heading in goals. At that time, Lahey vowed to do 10 pushups for every goal they used their noggins on. Now that the Minutemen are more proficient on set pieces, that policy may be changing soon.
On Wednesday, Mendham put in two headers off Kirsten Hofstetter corner kicks, including the gamewinner. Their efforts put the Mendham coach on his knees, literally.
"It was the first time we were able to get him to do the pushups," Farina said. "He's supposed to do 20 but I don't think he can do more than 10."
If the girls are going to head in goals, Lahey doesn't mind but he admits that he can't pound out the pushups like he used to. He still owed them 10 as he left the field.
"If we win games on headers, I will do pushups all day but I'm old and I can't do 20," Lahey said as he started laughing. "I'm sure I will do more when we get back to school."
Pulling games out in overtime is not unusual for Mendham this year. The Minutemen seem to be at their best when the score is tied and there are extra periods to be played.
"It's a weird season," Lahey said. "Them winning in overtime is because of their attitude. They don't quit. They refuse to lose. As much as that is a cliche, that's really what it is. Every overtime game they have just battled and battled and battled."
The overtime period was wild and frenetic with each team missing chances to end it quickly. In the opening minute, one Minutemen volley bounced off the Morris Knolls' crossbar on a play triggered by a Hofstetter direct kick. Seconds later, another Mendham player had a wide open net with a cross from a teammate but the ball bounced over her foot when she tried to connect. The miss triggered a collective groan from the Minutemen bench.
A minute or two later, the Golden Eagles had a chance to score but Corrine Bowe's shot skipped just to the right of the far post.
There was nothing out of the ordinary in Farina's winning score. She just got her head on Hofstetter's solid cross into the box.
"I was standing in the right place and Hoff put it in good position," Farina said. "She takes all the corners and she puts them in good spots."
The senior center midfielder has proven to be a very reliable and resilient athlete.
"She has played varsity since the middle of her freshman year," Lahey said. "She's a really tough kid. She played part of her sophomore season with a fractured ankle and torn tendon and didn't know about it. She recovered from it. This year she has been a great leader for us. She does a lot of things that don't show up on the box score."
The Minutemen were unhappy to be playing overtime in the first place. They had the better scoring opportunities and led most of the way, keeping Golden Eagles keeper Giaci Vitolo engaged all game. She was credited with 11 saves.
Morris Knolls gained the equalizer late in the contest. Laura Budwick's shot attempt was knocked down by Mendham keeper Karyn Davy in a scramble in front of the box. The ball bounced to the left and Lee followed up and put the ball in the net in the 76th minute to tie the game at 2-all. The goal annoyed the Minutemen.
"We got angry," Farina said. "It was a stupid goal. We wanted to come back and finish it."
Mendham opened up the scoring 14 minutes into the game. Lutz ran on a long through ball and beat a defender for a breakaway. Vitolo came out to cut down Lutz's angle and deflected her shot but the effort sent her sprawling and she couldn't corral it. Lutz was able to jump over her and kick the ball in from about 10 yards out.
"Allie is a sophomore," Farina said. "She's really good at finishing and making plays."
"She works hard, runs off the ball and makes good choices," Ewing added.
Morris Knolls' Huber tied the game in a scramble in front of the net to make it 1-1 at the 27th minute.
The Minutemen took back the lead just before the half. Ewing, a junior midfielder, was able to get her head on another Hofstetter corner kick, from the right side of the field in the 36th minute.
"It was like (Farina's) was," Ewing said. "We ran from the corner of the box and I found the right spot and headed it to the opposite corner."
Wednesday's win was the type of result that could propel the Minutemen to better things. They have been eliminated from the county tournament and and have been straddling the .500 mark much of the season, but if some of their injured players can get back in shape and display the same kind of confidence against others that they had against Morris Knolls, who knows what the future holds?
"We're getting close," Lahey said. "We haven't played with a full roster in any game this year... When we get everybody together, our level of play is going to go up again."