EAST HANOVER TWP. _ Hanover Park girls soccer didn’t expect to make much of an impact this year. However, the Hornets booters have surprised themselves and are determined to make Morris County Tournament history.
Claire Cahill’s goal off a Meghan Macaluso corner kick in the second half lifted Hanover Park to a 1-0 victory over Mount Olive in the MCT quarterfinal-round action on Sunday, October 7.
It is the first time the Hornets have advanced to the semifinals in the history of the tournament. Hanover Park will play Morris Knolls in the MCT semifinals. West Morris and Randolph also are in the Final Four.
Senior goalkeeper Natalie Santangelo played a major role, earning the shutout with eight saves for Hanover Park (7-1-1).
"None of us really knew what to expect," Hanover Park coach Erin Fulton said. "We graduated eight solid seniors last year. We knew we were going to be young but I think having the experience that the upperclassmen have. They just have this calming affect on the girls and they infuse the team with this hard work ethic."
It was the infusion of a strong sophomore class and the influence of players like Cahill and Santangelo that have helped the younger players get accustomed to the varsity level.
"We lost a lot of seniors last year," Cahill said. "We thought we would win some, lose some, play in all close games. I didn’t think we would be like this. Especially with the dynamic this year, you could just tell. Everyone knows each other so well. We have nine sophomores on the team that all play. It’s not like they sit on the bench, they all play.
"They have been playing together for years and years. All of them know each other. We’ve been playing with them in middle school. That helps a lot."
The contest was close in the first half but the momentum of the contest shifted after Cahill’s goal.
Cahill made her run from the right side and headed the ball in on Macaluso’s corner kick from the left. The ball bounced into the left side of the net in the 53rd minute for the only goal of the contest.
"Meghan usually takes the corners," Cahill said. "She just places it in the perfect spot. I knew where to go. There was no one really marking so I had an open goal."
Both Cahill and Macaluso play in the back but they also exhibit a tremendous amount of skill on the offensive end, too.
"Claire has been with me with since she was a freshman," Fulton said. "I’m devastated now that she is a senior. She is super calm on the ball. When she loses it, she gets back up and she wins it back. She has this calming presence. She gets the sophomores to keep their composure 100 percent."
Along with Cahill and Macaluso, Victoria Corino, Kiera Haemmerle, Jessie Simmons and Francesca DeMaiolo take turns defending. Santangelo was pressured late as the 11th-seeded Marauders, who had some size with several seniors, including Naya Vialva, pushed for the equalizer. However, Santangelo was up to the task of preserving the shutout.
"I knew she could be powerful and dangerous," Santangelo said of Vialva. "I made sure to tell the defenders to keep them (Valve and Gabi Grillo) man marked. The defense has been doing really well. We stayed strong and Keira and Meghan hold it down in the midfield usually."
Going up against the defending MCT champs next Sunday will be a challenge but even though they might be undersized the Hornets seem to have the temperament and camaraderie to perform well when
"The girls that we had last year created a sense of family," Fulton said. "Everyone is a part of it. Everyone is involved. Everyone is super important. This group has continued to carry that on. They support each other every day regardless of who is starting or who is on the field."