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Cougars repel Rams for MCT title

Chatham players gather for a selfie after their MCT final win over West Morris on Tuesday, Oct. 19. Photos by Maryann Harlow, Sandy Seegers Chatham players gather for a selfie after their MCT final win over West Morris on Tuesday, Oct. 19.
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BOONTON _ Chatham's defense made it all look so easy.

Tasked with having to protect their goal line against 19 corner attempts by top-seeded Randolph, the Cougars stopped an incredible 18 of them in the Morris County Tournament Field Hockey final on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

The Rams often swarmed the circle yet third-seeded Chatham was steely and resistant, sending the ball out all but once. Mia Sciacchitano snapped a 1-1 deadlock with 6:16 remaining to seal the Cougars' 2-1 victory and earn them their first MCT championship in 11 years.

"This is amazing," said Sciacchitano, a sophomore right wing, of her second career goal. "We really wanted to win. It's definitely exciting."

Sciacchitano's teammate, Kelsea Lee, the sweeper, was a stalwart on the corners. She said the abundant corners by the Wolfpack were "scary."

For Lee, a junior, some of her effort was simply instinctive. She had the mentally to protect the cage, no matter what. Much conscious thought also went into Lee's corner defense.

"I kept thinking that I need to run up fast," said Lee, the fearless flyer. "I focused on my footwork. I had to make sure that I kept my feet moving and not planted so they didn't get another corner. I angled my stick. It was stressful trying to read the plays."

It was all worth it, though, as Chatham showed grit in keeping West Morris, which had 19 shots on goal to the Cougars' six, at bay. For Randolph, which has experienced similar situations - failing to convert despite having the upper hand on attack - the loss stung.

"We dominated the game but we have the curse of not scoring," said Rams coach Gina Adickes. "We can't finish. It's been the story of our season and it haunted us tonight."

Lee, who runs track and plays paddleball, was certain the victory pleased her sister, Alexa, a former player, now a freshman at the University of Maryland. Alexa watched the livestream, she said. Kelsea expected to talk to her sister later tonight.

"There wasn't a tournament last year (because of the pandemic) so we didn't get to play," the younger Lee said. "This win is for her. I'm sure she's happy."

The entire defensive unit, of course, was exceptional and was led by Emmy Chazen, Kate McManus, Brooke DiBiase, Sophia Claps and goalie Kelly Bernich (11 saves).

"In the beginning, we were allowing West Morris to step to the ball," Cougars coach Kaitlin Leyden said. "They're a very good team. We had to be more aggressive. At halftime, it was 0-0. We told the team we were still in it. Our defense is solid and confident. They didn't quit."

If Chatham had given up, it almost would have been understandable. The Rams were relentless, pushing deep into the Cougars' territory and the scoring circle over and over.

The pace was frenetic in the second half as both teams tried to get on the scoreboard. Gianna Drake put Randolph on top, 1-0, with 9:45 left in the third quarter. Drake, who knocked the ball in off a corner, was assisted by Sarah Bona, whose fine stickwork, once again, was on display.

The Cougars evened it less than two minutes later on a goal by DiBiase. She recorded her goal off a corner - the second and last for Chatham - with 7:51 remaining after receiving a pass from Chazen.

Finally, it was Sciacchitano's chance to step into the spotlight. The first-year starter, known for her speed and jabbing skills, saw the ball sitting near three feet from the post after a long hit by Kitty Garrett.

"I sprinted to the ball and put it in the left side," Sciacchitano said. "I just went for it. Sometimes, it's a good idea. Sometimes, it's a bad idea, but it was good in this case."

Leyden appreciated Sciacchitano's heads-up play at crunch time. At halftime, Leyden switched her from the right side to the left.

"Mia is quick and we wanted to match their speed," Leyden said. "I'm so proud of her. Mia works hard. She's doing everything right."

From there, Randolph had five more corners, all in the last 3:27, making for more tension-filled moments for Chatham, which didn't waver on defense.

"We played hard," Lee said. "We gave our all."

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***

Last modified onThursday, 21 October 2021 10:13
Sandy Seegers

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