PARSIPPANY _ Considering West Morris girls soccer got off to such a shaky start this year, it may be a bit of a surprise that the Wolfpack have reached the Morris County Tournament final.
However, the players didn't doubt themselves. They vanquished one of their toughest foes on Sunday, Oct. 16 and are setting their sights on taking on another one in the title game.
Emily Leyson's first-half goal was the only score needed in West Morris Central's 1-0 triumph over sister school and rival Mendham on the turf at Parsippany Hills High School.
Goalkeeper Ashley Appelhans made three saves and West Morris was tenacious on defense all day in order to reach its third MCT final in five years. The third-seeded Wolfpack will play top-seeded Roxbury in the championship game which has a tentative 5 p.m. start at Roxbury High School on Oct. 22. Madison Martino scored twice to spark the Gaels.
The win lifts West Morris to 11-2 and gets the Wolfpack even for a 1-0 loss it suffered to the Minutemen in September. They are on a nine-game winning streak.
"It's a very good feeling," Leyson said. "We wanted to go back and get a win and get some revenge. We lost the first game we played to them. It was inside of all of us to get them back.''
Some fans may have written West Morris off after a 2-2 start with losses against Mendham and Roxbury.
However, after the defeats, the Wolfpack regrouped. They switched formation to a 4-5-1 to give their speedy outside midfielders and backs some room to roam and better chances at creating offense. They made more subtle but important changes within the team as well.
"We communicated a lot better and our captains really stepped up," senior defender Allison Cunniffe said. "We focused on things that we needed to do to improve like communication and being physical and we brought it all together here today."
Leyson's goal was the only one that was needed. The Wolfpack's target player took a looping pass from Rachel Wells and found herself in a footrace with Mendham goalie Rose Rittger for the ball near the top of the penalty area.
"I don't remember who passed it to me but it went over my head and I turned and there was no one there," Leyson said. "I just tried to keep the ball down because I was afraid I was going to hit it over."
Although only a sophomore, Leyson has played a serious role in the Wolpack attack.
"Emily has been red hot down the stretch," West Morris coach Ken Rossi said. "She has been turning and shooting and playing balls into space. Whatever we need her to do, she has been working relentlessly at it."
Instead of taking a more defensive attitude after getting the lead, West Morris stayed aggressive and concentrated on getting possessions. As a result, the Minutemen's dangerous scoring opportunities were kept to a minimum and the Wolfpack are back in the final.
"We were able to work as a team and stay poised the entire game rather than get frazzled in the moment," Cunniffe said. "It is really important for us to work as a team and find passes to feet and get the job done."
Roxbury 5, Randolph 1
The Gaels rallied from a 1-0 deficit to score five consecutive goals and advance to the title game.
Madison Martino scored twice and Jamie Irwin, Karly Forker and Brynn Freund added goals for the top-seeded Gaels (10-2-1). Ashley Chipoletti had the only goal for the Rams (10-4).
Irwin's direct kick score gave Roxbury the lead for good. She knocked it in from 35 yards out, just clearing the outstretched fingertips of the Randolph goalie with 25 seconds left in the first half to make it a 2-1 game.
The Gaels pulled away in the second half. Martino right-footed a Forker cross and placed it in the left corner of the net in the 50th minute.