ROXBURY _ After a year of waiting, Roxbury finally has a championship of its own.
Sophomore forward Madison Martino connected in the eighth minute of play to lift Roxbury to a 1-0 triumph over West Morris in the Morris County Girls Soccer Tournament final held on the turf at Roxbury High School on Saturday, Oct. 24.
Sophomore Sarah Olivero stopped 10 shots to earn the shutout for the second-seeded Gaels (10-5-2). It is their first outright MCT title since 2007. Ilissa Webb stopped three shots for top-seeded West Morris (15-1-1).
Last year, Roxbury and Randolph finished in a 1-1 tie. This year, the Morris County boys and girls soccer coaches voted against awarding co-championships in favor of holding a shootout if the score was tied after two overtime periods. The Gaels weren't planning on waiting that long.
"It feels great," tournament MVP Deanna Graziani said. "Last year, we came away with a tie and it feels great this year to come away with a win."
Roxbury had lost twice to West Morris by identical 1-0 scores in regular-season action in games on Sept. 16 and Oct. 15. This time, the Gaels had other ideas.
"We had to outwork them," Graziani said. "That's all we had to do. It was about who wanted this game and who was going to bring it to the table."
The only deciding factor in this game seemed to be which team was going to bury the ball in the back of the net first.
"From a mentality and confidence standpoint, we knew that we can get one in on them," Roxbury coach Justin Renna said. "We had played them twice before and lost 1-0 both times. It affirmed that we can score on them. Their keeper is one of the best keepers in North Jersey and it felt good to finally put one in on her."
Last year, the Gaels took the lead in the first seven seconds on a stunning long-distance goal from midfield scored by Paige Monaghan. This time, around it took eight minutes for Roxbury to connect. Martino finished on an Ashley Serafin flick for her third goal of the year.
"Someone took a throw-in," Martino said. "Ashley flicked it and I just touched it in. I knew I had to get it in the back of the goal."
Martino was standing at around the six-yard line when she right-footed the ball into the lower-left corner of the net. A freshman starter last year, Martino was among many who had a little extra determination to give her home town crowd a victory to celebrate.
"We knew they were undefeated," Martino said. "We really wanted to end that streak. We've come this far in the tournament. We really wanted to win it after being co-champions last year.
"We knew it was hard to beat a team three times. We needed to come out and play 100 percent. We did it."
Just a sophomore, Martino's name might be one area soccer fans should probably get used to hearing.
"She is one of the most creative players that you are going to see on our team," Renna said. "It's exciting that she is only a sophomore. Anywhere 20 (yards) and in to the goal, she is either going to set the table for someone else or herself. That goal was set up by Ashley but Maddy made a really hard run to the front post and with tremendous composure finished it."
After that, it was up to the Roxbury defense to shut out West Morris. The group of Graziani, Jamie Irwin, Christine Fleming and Jackie Katzenberger did all they could to stifle the Wolfpack's attack.
"We all played in the back together last year," Graziani said. "It was easy for us to come into this season ready to go. We just immediately clicked. We worked hard at finding the forwards' feet and not kicking the ball away. Just simple things like that."
West Morris had some scoring opportunities but none of them provided the equalizer. The best might have been a hard Emily Leyson drive that Olivero stopped in the 48th minute. Many of the sophomore's saves were off long-distance West Morris kicks that she saw coming and corraled in her arms. The defensive players held fast the rest of the way. Roxbury earned a title that they didn't have to share.
"This means so much," Graziani said. "Now our fans are going to come to a lot more of our games. It means a great deal to our program."