PARSIPPANY _ In order to get to the final of the Morris County Girls Soccer Tournament, Morris Knolls just needed a good swift kick while West Morris had a goalkeeper who knew how to stand her ground.
It took West Morris 100 minutes of action and a shootout to earn a 0-0 (3-1 in penalty kicks) victory over Randolph at Parsippany Hills on Sunday, Oct. 14. Morris Knolls defeated Hanover Park 2-1 in double overtime in the other semifinal at the same site.
The defending champion Golden Eagles will clash with West Morris in the championship game on Saturday, Oct. 20 at 5 p.m. at Roxbury High School.
Maddison Perna scored twice for the Wolfpack, including the gamewinner with 1:28 left in the second 10-minute overtime period. Ava Mamary was stellar in the West Morris win. Along with the three saves, she was able to corral the Rams in regulation and overtime periods of what became a very physical contest between rivals schools. Mamary made three saves of the four shots put on her in the shootout. For two of them, Mamary barely had to move as Randolph players either mishit the ball or were hoping she would overcompensate and make a dive.
"For me, PKs are completely a mental game," Mamary said. "I try to get in the other girls' head just by looking at her very intently. If I can’t decide where she is going by her eyes, I just wait until she kicks the ball and try to react."
“Ava is solid," West Morris coach Ken Rossi said. "She’s a senior. She’s a team leader. She has a ton of heart. She is an emotional leader for us. She doesn’t get shy on PKs. She wants to come out and perform and compete in them. Ava has been solid in practice."
Shootout goals were knocked in by Leanne Engemann, Sarah Kahn and Melissa Sellards. The Wolfpack practice penalty kicks two or three times a week and keep track of who is hitting them, looking for players that make them consistently. Two of the girls that made goals (Kahn and Sellards) did not start the contest.
"Everyone can take a kick on our bench," Mamary said. "We have a lot of girls who are competent and can step up to the plate."
Mamary also credited the solid defenders in front of her (Regina Russo, Nicole Balkin, Anise Mamary). They gave the Rams limited opportunities to score in regulation and during the two 10-minute overtime periods.
"We worked so hard for it," Mamary said. "It was such a relief. All of our hard work paid off. It means the world to us."
Perna, Racine have good connection
When Rebecca Racine heard a voice from behind her call for the ball, the Morris Knoll senior didn’t hesitate to feed Perna. The Golden Eagles standout cranked her righty shot from about 25 yards out and it sailed into the right corner of the net for the decisive score.
"Bear was calling my name," Racine said, referring to Perna. "She was right behind me. She not only called my name but where she was in position on the field. We have a good connection and we work well together. She just nailed it."
It was Perna’s second goal of the game and one the senior midfield badly wanted.
"The rush of adrenaline is a great feeling to have and I couldn’t have done it without my team," Perna said. "Rebecca had a nice layoff. I saw it. I wanted to get this game over with. I wanted to go on to the finals. I want this to be the best season."
Perna’s scores were no surprise. She had a strong MCT run last year when they won the title and is one of the reasons the Golden Eagles have been dominant this year.
"She is the heart in the center of the midfield,’’ Morris Knolls coach Stephan Zdanowicz said of Perna."She just controls it for us and defensively she is just all over the place. Every flick is dangerous. Every time she has the ball on her feet, it's dangerous."
The Golden Eagles took a 1-0 lead on a score by Perna in the 15th minute. The contest was tied when Hanover Park, a team making its first appearance in the MCT girls soccer semis, drew a foul inside the box and was awarded a penalty kick. Hornets senior Claire Cahill drilled the ball into the net in the 33rd minute to make it 1-1 at the half. Morris Knolls felt the call was unjust and were annoyed at some of the referees decisions.
"I know I’m used to it," Perna said. "I feel like I’ve been playing soccer my whole life. I take it to heart and figure, if they are against us, let’s just prove them wrong. I feel that for people to be against us and for us to have a target on our back is the best feeling a team has."
Morris Knolls got another big lift earlier in that second overtime period when its starting goalie, Katie Walsh, was knocked down on a scramble. Not only did the referees call the foul on Morris Knolls but forced Walsh, who was slow to get up, to leave the game until the next stoppage of play. Fortunately, backup Cassidy Kohler stepped up to the occasion and handled Cahill’s direct kick shot on goal for her lone save of the game.
The Golden Eagles have found that they tend to play even better when confronted with obstacles.
"You always want the games to be decided on the field," Zdanowicz said. "I was trying to get the girls fired up about that. Anything that we can use (to our advantage)."
Last year, Morris Knolls defeated Mendham 1-0 in the title game. Palma is anxious for a repeat.
"It’s a great opportunity," Perna said. "It's my last season and being with all these players is awesome. I played with a lot of them since I was younger. It’s just an amazing feeling."
***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***