UNION _ Juliana Saling had a prime spot - the center of the bench - to view Villa Walsh's 2014 state final victory.
Saling, then a freshman, had a concussion and missed the second half of the season. She made sure she got in on the celebration, though, defying doctor's orders and running onto the field because she "wanted to be part of the experience."
Fast forward to 2015... Once again, Saling was in the midst of the joyous revelry. This time, Saling, a midfielder, was involved start to finish and scored the lone goal 10:19 into the first half, helping the Vikings to a 1-0 triumph over Moorestown Friends and the Non-Public B championship on Sunday, Nov. 15 at Kean University.
"Not being in the game last year was hard," Saling said. "Watching was really tough. Having an influence, a physical impact, tonight meant a lot. I was kind of shocked to get the goal in such an important game. I saw the smiles on everyone's faces after I scored. Then we just kept fighting."
The title was the second in a row for Villa Walsh, which has endured its share of adversity this fall. Adversity was present for the final as well. Two hours before the game began, goalie Sean Sinko, suffering from a concussion sustained versus Montclair Kimberley, was deemed unable to play. Freshman Emma Shatel, normally the left midfielder, was asked to fill in.
Shatel, informed of the decision before warmups, had never played goalie before. She was nervous but Shatel seemed to relish the opportunity. No wonder. She comes from a family of athletes. Her late grandfather, Harry, is the winningest coach in New Jersey high school baseball history, amassing 752 victories at Morristown. Her dad, Bruce, heads the ice hockey and baseball programs at Delbarton.
"It was pretty nervewracking but the team had my back," said Emma Shatel. "I tried to keep the ball out and communicate. I knew Sean was hurt. I got the feeling for playing goalie during drills. I learned where to go, how to react."
As it turned out, Shatel only had one tense moment. At the very end of the first half, a Moorestown Friends player took a free kick but it caromed off the crossbar.
Her teammates did have her back. The Vikings' defense, comprised of Alyssa Yarosz, Olivia Reo, Meghan Sharkey and Gianna Villoresi, repeatedly denied Moorestown Friends. Villoresi, a freshman and Villa Walsh's chief offensive threat, was moved from forward to defense. Lauren Brett saw action, entering midway through the opening half after Victoria Colledge hurt her calf.
"Emma stepped up in a huge way," Villa Walsh coach Kristin McCormick said. "She'd do anything for the team. The shots had to be kept to a minimum. The defense was amazing. The girls were behind Emma."
Reo, a sophomore center back, was not on the school team last year. She played for her club squad but was glad she chose to wear Villa Walsh's green and white.
"This is a great feeling," Reo said. "We had a great bond. I'm so excited. We were hoping to get this far and went against all of the predictions. We have a lot of heart."
Having to uphold the 1-0 lead after the early goal was somewhat unsettling. Reo, however, said the Vikings, who wrote paragraphs on why they wanted to win and read them aloud on the bus ride to the college, were "playing for each other."
"We all take responsibility," Reo said. "We worked hard and communicated. We had to cover Emma."
Saling's goal came off a pass from Kiley Molnar. Saling took the shot from 18 yards out and drilled it into the top left side of the net.
"We scored early which was what we wanted to do," Saling said. "I think we were hungry for another goal. We stayed on attack. We were aware that they might come back."
McCormick, of course, was proud of the Vikings (15-8-3). Villa Walsh, which lost nine seniors, seven of them starters, from last year's team, overcame injuries and defied odds.
"I don't have the words. I don't know what to say," McCormick said. "I didn't expect this. Through determination and heart, these girls pulled together and overcame obstacles. We had a lot happen but it kept it interesting."
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