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Madison, Morristown to battle in final

BOONTON _ Madison, a team rife with injuries, didn't need one more.

That's why Dodgers coach Ann Marie Davies was upset when she found standout senior sweeper Caroline Blount in the trainer's room two days before the the Morris County Tournament semifinal against Randolph. Blount, who sprained her left ankle while playing rugby in gym class, didn't want to tell Davies about the mishap so she simply stayed quiet and played hurt versus Montclair.

It was unknown if Blount would play in the semifinal but she was in her familiar position and her mere presence aided in Madison's 3-1 victory over second-seeded Randolph on Oct. 14 at Boonton High School.

The Dodgers will face top-seeded and defending champion Morristown, which shut out Morristown-Beard 3-0 in the other semifinal, for the title on Tuesday, Oct. 17 at 7 p.m., also at Boonton. The Colonials prevailed last season, capturing their first MCT title since 1991 by edging West Morris, 1-0. Morristown shocked Madison in the semifinals, 2-0.

"This is an awesome win," Davies said. "Everyone worked hard. Everyone contributed."

Having Blount on the field Davies said "was so comforting."

That's because the Dodgers, seeking their 22nd MCT championship, have had two players out with broken feet. Another sustained a broken wrist. To have Blount sidelined would have been a major blow.

"Caroline didn't practice Friday," Davies said. "Sprains are tough. We weren't sure if she'd play and we were worried. She was reaching when we played Montclair. That's not like her. She's great. She's a true sweeper and does very well. Caroline's patient. She makes tackles. She distributes."

After the game, which featured two goals by Kerrianne McClay and one by Elizabeth Romano, Blount was humble about her contributions.

"I was just trying to do my job," Blount said. "I didn't know how well it'd go. I'm not 100 percent. Winning feels really good. We're back after being knocked out last season. We deserve to be in the final. It's nice to be back on track."

Randolph (10-3-2) got on the scoreboard first, getting a goal from Carly Snarski 7:39 into the first half. McClay, a junior center midfielder, tied it up, 1-1, sending an angled-stick shot into the left side of the goalcage on a corner play 13:48 before halftime. Romano, who had the assist on McClay's score, converted with a shot from the top of the circle with 2:20 remaining in the first half.

"We started out flat and a little slow," Romano said. "We talked at halftime about what we needed to fix and just played through everything."

"We were not in sync at the beginning and had to come together," McClay said. "Our chemistry is great so we were able to get it back."

McClay recorded Madison's third goal following a breakaway 4:17 into the second half. McClay took the ball in from midfield and got past four defenders before getting off a lift shot from the middle of the circle.

Mackenzie Vorel was solid in goal for the Rams, making 11 saves. Mackenzie Sheehan and Sarah Leneghan were strong on defense for Randolph.

Rams coach Gina Adickes' said her players were "just gassed at the end."

"We were looking really tired," she said. "We tried to sub and get some momentum. Madison really picked it up. They had momentum and speed and were outhustling us to the ball. Mackenzie made great saves. I was impressed by our team."

Morristown, buoyed by goals by Samantha Hessels, Olivia Graham and Callie Sundin, remained undefeated after 14 games. The Colonials' objective, of course, was to make it back to the final and defend their title.

"We're super excited about the final. I have confidence in our team," Sundin said. "It all comes down to teamwork. We've been playing well. We'll be ready for the final."

"This is our senior year," said senior midfielder Devon Colquhoun said. "We're undefeated and we're looking to keep it going. Madison's a very respectable team and so are we. We've got to come into the final with all we've got."

Hessels put Morristown in front, 1-0, with a goal off a corner 9:14 into the first half. Graham set up that score. Twelve minutes before halftime, Graham had a breakaway that resulted in a goal.

Sundin, a senior left wing, knocked in the Colonials' third goal, connecting 6:27 into the second half.

Morristown had 17 corners, 10 in the first half. The Crimson, who had three shots on goal, were awarded their first corner 11:28 after the break and had three for the game.

Standouts on defense for Morristown, which returned seven starters this season, were Kei Murphy, Julia Woodworth and Colquhoun. 

The shutout, of course, earned them a matchup with Madison.

"We're very happy to be back in the final," Colonials coach Diane DeSalvo said. "It's hard to get there twice (in a row) in Morris County. We've had many great games with Madison. I expect this to be another great one."

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***

Cougars rally past Randolph

CHATHAM _ When it comes to soccer, a little desire makes all the difference.

Chatham discovered that after its come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Randolph in the opening round of Morris County Tournament girls soccer on Saturday, Sept. 30.

Caroline Crouse and Sophia Reed connected for the Cougars. Sixth-seeded Chatham (6-3) advanced to play third-seeded West Morris in the quarterfinals on Sunday, Oct. 8. Karen Hull scored a first-half goal for 11th-seeded Randolph.

Chatham was determined and was able to match the Rams' physicality. The Cougars also prevailed despite a terrific performance by Randolph goalkeeper Ellie Sciancelepore, who made eight saves and stopped a penalty kick opportunity by Chatham late in the first half that would have put the Cougars ahead by halftime.

"They really have a fighting spirit,'' Chatham coach Gary Adair said of his squad. "They understand that there are going to be moments in games where you may give a goal away like we did in the first five minutes but it is not the end of the world if you just have a bit more fight and a bit more drive. They showed it today.''

Chatham defeated Randolph 3-0 in a regular-season game but the Rams have a history of doing well in the MCT even in seasons when they struggle. The Cougars showed that they had enough talent and tenacity to overcome the bigger school squad.

"People outside of our team think we are the underdog sometimes,'' Crouse said. "We have some good players. That has helped a lot.''

Crouse scored the equalizer with 4:18 left in the first half with a righty shot to make it 1-1.

"It was a really good cross,'' the junior forward said. "It was kind of easy. I just tried to place it well. It was a pretty easy shot. I was on the six. I first timed it about waist high.''

The teams battled well into the second half with both squads getting opportunities but not converting on their chances. Chatham was most concerned with Randolph's speed up front. Hull is one of the county's top sprinters and sophomore Lauren Robles has quick legs and had a few scoring opportunities that didn't miss by much. Chatham defenders Meredith Enslow, Frances Workman and Olivia Robertson always had to be on their guard.

"We just knew if they are quick you can't dive in,'' Reed said. "So we just tried to keep our distance from her and play smart. If you have a chance to win it just win it.''

Chatham secured the win on a scramble situation in the penalty area. Reed, a senior forward, connected with a right-footed shot with about 9:45 left, she was immediately mobbed by her happy teammates.

"It was definitely a mess,'' Reed said. "I worked hard to try and get in good position to get the ball unfortunately Jen Olnowich just got it stuck in her legs. She is a sophomore and she is really aggressive. It just happened to pop out a little bit. There were so many people around. The goalie was out of the net and I tried to position myself so I could get whatever came out.''

It wasn't a picturesque goal but even the ugly goals count in tournament play and good teams often get their share of ugly scores.

"The final goal wasn't the prettiest of goals but it shows the desire to win a game,'' Adair said. "It's impressive and I'm pleased for them that we are going in the right direction.''

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***

Pych lifts Crimson in MCT

MORRISTOWN _ The sprints and timed miles drew groans from the members of the Morristown-Beard field hockey players at recent practices.

Of course, no one questioned the extra running, not with the Morris County Tournament looming.

Senior center back Katie Wright actually sounded like a fan of the added endurance workouts after the fifth-seeded Crimson emerged with a hard-fought 1-0 win over 12th-seeded Mount Olive in a Morris County Tournament first-round game on Tuesday, Oct. 3.

"We've been working on getting back," Wright said. "We've been doing a lot of running. This made it worth it. It was definitely worth it."

Right back Ali Palazetti noted that "everyone had better times" and realized the value of the increased running ordered by coach Kate Alderman.

But that was only part of the reason behind Morristown-Beard's victory, which also came to be because of Jenna Pych's goal with 4:28 remaining. Pych, a senior forward, and freshman Joele Russomanno drove toward the goalcage from midfield, exchanging several passes. Pych used a reverse-stick shot to send the ball into the left corner of the goalcage, relieving an immense amount of tension. When Pych converted, the Crimson were a player down because one of their players had received a yellow card a minute before.

"It was nice to get that goal," Pych said. "It was a good feeling. I'm not a fan of overtime so there was a lot of relief in scoring."

Alderman enjoyed watching Pych and Russomanno advance toward the circle.

"We were a player down so to see that type of intensity at that point was great," Alderman said. "The girls worked hard to score using quick passes to the goal. We knew going in that it was going to be a tough game. We have similar styles. We were going to have to step it up. We kept the effort up and stayed strong."

Over the last two minutes, the Marauders attempted to draw even, bringing the ball deep into Morristown-Beard territory. Over the final 1:22, Mount Olive was awarded two corners but was denied by Crimson goalie Lindsay Pych (9 saves) and the stalwart defense.

The horn sounded, signaling the end of the game. However, several seconds were added. At that juncture, Mount Olive (6-4) was still hoping to force OT.

"I was pretty nervous then," Wright said.

"We held them today on the corners," Palazzetti said. "Sometimes, we struggle with them. They put a wall around us at the very end."

Marauders coach Kelly Livingston deemed her squad's first half better than the second. Mount Olive went into halftime with a slight edge in shots on goal, 5-4.

"We were a little off overall," Livingston said. "In the first half, we were passing stick to stick, communicating and winning 50-50 balls. We could've been better. We were not on our game."

Livingston called a timeout following Morristown-Beard's goal and asked "Who's ready?"

"My players were excited. They had a positive mindset but didn't finish," she said. "We're going to reflect back and we'll be frustrated. We'll be mad. We felt it could've been us. We'll take this momentum and use it to carry us into our next game."

Standouts for the Marauders were three seniors - back Annalee Smith and midfielders Gina Verrone and Alyssa Borozan. Hallie Schwartzstein also excelled on defense for Morristown-Beard (7-1).

At halftime, Alderman challenged the Crimson, telling them "it would come down to fitness and how much you want to win the game."

"It was nice to see them not give up," Alderman said. "If you keep working, it'll come."

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***

Minutemen back in top form

MENDHAM _ Mendham's shutout loss to Ridge last week certainly was a game to forget.

The Minutemen lacked energy and their slick passing game and teamwork were missing.

On Monday, Oct. 2, Mendham returned to top form and blanked 11th-seeded Whippany Park 5-0 in Morris County Tournament first-round action.

Five players had goals for the sixth-seeded Minutemen, who notched their sixth shutout of the 2017 season. Mendham (6-2-1) raced out to a 3-0 lead in the opening half behind goals by Avery Smith, Grace Chapis and Megan McIntyre.

"That was an off day," said Mendham senior defender and tri-captain Sarah McHugh of the Ridge setback. "We had a little talk before today's game and we got in the zone."

"We didn't support each other in that game," said Avery Smith, a tri-captain and senior midfielder. "Today was much better. If someone made a mistake, we recovered."

Getting back on track was critical for the Minutemen, anxious to keep advancing and perhaps earn a berth in the MCT semifinals. Mendham will face the winner of third-seeded Madison, which defeated Butler in MCT quarterfinal-round play, in the quarterfinals.

"We really didn't play our best against Ridge," Minutemen coach Lori Welles said. "We weren't cohesive. It wasn't a good day for everyone to have a bad day."

Mendham was far from lackluster in its game versus the Wildcats. The offense was more fluid. Everyone was communicating. The defense, buoyed by McHugh, Madigan O'Donnell, Emma Marks and Kelly McIntyre, was unyielding, denying Whippany Park over and over again.

"We were all a it down on ourselves," O'Donnell said. "We had the idea of coming in here with a clean slate. We worked hard on Friday in practice. The seniors knew this could be our last county game."

Smith, a senior midfielder and four-year starter, gave the Minutemen a 1-0 edge, scoring off a corner 4:01 into the first half. Chapis converted a pass from Izzy Pampalone 13:22 later, boosting the lead to 2-0. Megan McIntyre, a freshman, struck next, knocking in a cross pass from Marks 9:38 before halftime.

In the second half, Mendham received goals off the sticks of Olivia Coleman and Emma Gugliemini. Chapis and Yasmin Mahyer had assists.

Having the goals come from so many different sources pleased Welles, who has employed the same starting lineup for the last five games.

"I like having a lot of scorers," she said. "Teams can't focus on one person. This lineup is getting to know each other. They're aware of where everyone is. Even with subs in, we're still very good. The seniors adjust to whoever's in."

Whippany Park goalie Hannah Klein, under pressure for the majority of the game, finished with 18 saves.

"We connected easily today," McHugh said. "We played really well and came back from a tough loss."

Parsippany blanks Butler

PARSIPPANY _ The stick was short, definitely way too short, for Parsippany forward Savannah Cerrato, who is 5 foot 11 and affectionately nicknamed "the giraffe" by her teammates.

At the end of last week, Cerrato practiced with the 30-inch stick that belongs to the daughter of Red Hawks assistant coach Colleen Smith. A day later, Cerrato recorded her first-ever hat trick, helping Parsippany to a win over Mountain Lakes.

On Tuesday, Sept. 26, Cerrato scored again, knocking in the Red Hawks' third goal to help them shut out Butler, 4-0.

"The coach's daughter left her mini stick so I just tried it," Cerrato explained. "It made me get closer to the ground. We've done mini-stick drills in the past. You get down and ambush."

The victory, which also featured a pair of goals by Olivia Bucciarelli and one by freshman Priscilla Wong, put Parsippany's record at 4-4. More importantly, it extended Cerrato's scoring streak.

Red Hawks coach Rebecca Lilienthal wasn't very happy with the way her team played but, of course, was glad Cerrato stayed in the mix on offense. Lilienthal thought Parsippany's passing game was lacking and expected more from the attack, which had 21 shots on goal.

"We weren't utilizing our passing game very well," Lilienthal said. "The players were watching instead of moving to the ball. The girls kept working and didn't give up on each other. When things didn't go well, we figured out a way to win. It wasn't pretty but we got the job done."

Bucciarelli scored the Red Hawks' first goal 9:17 before halftime off a rebound. She converted again 1:12 later. Lindsey Depetris assisted.

Cerrato, a senior, took a pass from Julianna Davanzo and sent the ball into the right side of the goalcage 12:26 into the second half, putting Parsippany up, 3-0. Wong, who came in off the bench, closed out the scoring with 3:05 left after receiving a pass from Rachel Wang.

"The ball was right there," said Cerrato, lamenting the Red Hawks' inability to capitalize. "The ball was behind the goalie a few times. We kept going for it. We didn't give up."

Parsippany pressured Bulldogs first-year goalie Brooke Redner, who has done a fine job thus far this season. Redner, a senior, was a back before taking on the goalie responsibilties and has adapted well. She finished with 19 saves.

Butler, lacking experience, is working to improve. The Bulldogs' midfield is a strength with seniors Sam Beck and Kayla Carr. 

"A lot of our players are right from middle school or rec hockey," Butler coach Kate McAuliffe said. "It's big transition. We're making headway. We'll get there eventually."

The Red Hawks have won two in a row and hope to tack on more victories. Their next game is against Mountain Lakes, which they defeated, 5-1.

"We have a lot of potential and a lot of players back from last season," said Cerrato, while wearing the team's lucky hot stuff hat and scarf after the game. "We've been together for awhile. We're going to stick with it."

Cerrato doesn't want her scoring burst to be short-lived or for Parsippany to come up short in close games.

"It's the short stick," she said. "I used it and I'm scoring." 

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.

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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

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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). 

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