BOONTON _ Alex Belen said the slip of paper, carefully placed between her shinguard and her sock, was meant to be a reminder of what West Morris sought to accomplish in the Morris County Tournament final.
Champion, it read.
The eight-letter word, however, became more of a mandate, at least that's the way the top-seeded Wolfpack viewed it.
Belen, a senior right back, and her West Morris teammates channeled the word into a into their first MCT title on Tuesday, Oct. 15 by prevailing over Morristown-Beard, 2-1, in overtime.
"It was part of our locker room talk," Belen said. "We always do something special before every big game. Each letter in champion stands for something, like courage, hustle, perserverance. It's what we are as a team."
The Crimson, after a sluggish first half, displayed the same qualities, making for an epic title game between two squads vying for their first county title. Morristown-Beard was appearing in the final for the second consecutive year. Sarah Bietka snapped the 1-1 deadlock 1:38 into the first extra period, sending the Wolfpack into a spirited celebration in front of the Crimson goalcage.
"This is one of the best feelings ever," said Bietka, a senior inner. "We worked for years to have this feeling. To do what no other field hockey team in our school has done is..."
Bietka's goal materialized on the right side of the field. Sophia Prata brought the ball down and crossed to Bietka, who shot on goal. Morristown-Beard repelled it and Bietka picked up the rebound then sent the ball past three defenders and into the left side of the goalcage.
Bietka, the offensive MVP, deemed the score "my best ever" and noted that she had never converted in overtime.
"I've always loved to score but it's never been just me," she said. "Never. It's a team effort each time."
Twenty minutes after the decisive goal, West Morris lingered on the turf field at Boonton High School, taking photos and savoring what they had accomplished. In the midst of the post-game revelry, West Morris coach Courtney Barnett, elated by the win, did what she promised her players she'd do if they won - her eighth grade cheerleader dance.
"I'm so excited for them," said Barnett, a standout three-sport athlete at Morris Knolls High School before starring in field hockey at Rider University. "This is something we believed we could do after losing in the quarterfinals last season. The girls worked for it and it wasn't easy. To do it in dramatic fashion shows their heart and grit.
"The title has eluded us and we wanted it. It was a matter of executing. I know Morristown-Beard wanted it as much. Both teams were exhausted by overtime. Somehow, we were able to take it to another level and get the job done."
Prata posted the lone goal of the first half, knocking the ball in 13:01 before halftime. West Morris was in control from the start but was denied again and again by the Crimson (11-2).
Morristown-Beard emerged from the break driven and determined to pull even. Ella Singer, the transfer from Millburn High School who had the lone goal in the Crimson's upset of two-time defending champion Madison in the semifinals, connected off a corner 8:49 into the second half.
The goal jarred the Wolfpack, intent on staying calm and focused. Each team had multiple corner opportunities yet was unable to capitalize.
"For a split second, there was some worry," Belen said. "Then we said 'We've got this.' Our coach tells us never to get down on ourselves. We were resilient. We kept playing with a lot of heart."
Bietka thought "What will we do now?" when the Crimson knotted the score.
What they ended up doing was standing tall despite threats posed by Morristown-Beard. Victoria Bodnar, the goalie, with much assistance from the defense, was highly effective and ended with 11 saves. Sophomore forward Julia Carbone was stellar throughout, pressuring, cutting back and in front and redirecting the ball.
Crimson goalie Josie Ashton, who made eight saves, was named the defensive MVP. Defender Jesslyn Patricia was a presence, often thwarting the Wolfpack's attackers.
"Overtime is always tough," Morristown-Beard coach Kate Alderman said. "I'm incredibly proud of what this team did out there tonight. We picked up our play in the second half and played our game. We worked hard and were more aggressive."
Belen was elated to leave the field a winner. After all, it was only a year ago that West Morris, top-seeded again, was ousted in the quarterfinals.
"It's amazing, especially because of overtime," Belen said. "Morristown-Beard is great. They put up a fight. I can't believe this. It's so good to get the county title."
***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***
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