The College’s eighth-ranked women’s soccer team captured the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship with a 1-0 win over Montclair State University. The Lions advanced to the finals by way of a 2-1 victory over Kean University earlier in the week.
Saturday’s contest was the fourth time the Lions have faced the Red Hawks in the conference finals in the last five years. They have dominated tournament play, winning 11 NJAC Championships in the last 13 years. With the win, the Lions earned their 16th straight bid to the NCAA Division III Championships.
“We have played well so far in the postseason and have gotten two wins, but we know we can play even better,” sophomore midfielder Coleen Weber said. “Last year, we were on top of our game heading into the national tournament, and we need to prepare ourselves so we can make it back to the finals again.”
Even though the NJAC Championship game featured a tight score, the Lions pressured the Red Hawks for much of the contest. Dominating the game in shots on goal, 25-3, and corner kicks, 11-1, it was just a matter of time before the Lions broke through and found the back of the net.
The winning goal was scored by sophomore forward Jamie Kunkel with 32 minutes left in the game. Kunkel connected on a long shot from outside the penalty box, finding the right panel of the net. The goal was her second of the postseason and her fifth of the year.
“After I cut the ball back I looked up and saw an opening,” Kunkel said. “I knew a cross would not do much good so I tried to put the ball in the far right side of the goal.”
Freshman goalkeeper Jessica Clarke made three saves in the shutout effort. Senior Kristen Kuhmann, Montclair’s NJAC Goalkeeper of the Year, managed 10 saves in the game.
In the semifinal game held last Wednesday, the Lions defeated the Cougars of Kean University in a 2-1 home win. Kunkel got the Lions on the board by scoring her fourth goal of the season. Converting a pass from freshman defender Kyle Campisi, Kunkel put the Lions up by a goal just 19 minutes into the game.
The Cougars answered back with a 39th-minute goal from senior forward Heather Anzivino. The goal was Anzivino’s 19th of the year, leading all conference scorers.
In the second half, junior forward Kristen Cubicciotti gave the Lions the go-ahead goal, placing the ball past freshman goalkeeper Nicole Groszew. Freshman midfielder Melissa Martin set up the goal, completing her first assist of the year.
Clarke picked up three saves in the win, while Groszew turned away eight shots.
“Both teams in the postseason were very good teams that posed huge challenges for us,” head coach Joe Russo said. “We will try to keep getting better every day … and see where that takes us.”
“At this point you cannot get by with skill alone, because in NCAA competition everyone has skill,” Kunkel said. “It is the team that is willing to work the hardest that is going to win games … and that is what we are going to do.”