Lions claim NJAC three years straight

Earning its third consecutive New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship with a 3-1 win over Richard Stockton University, the women’s soccer team heads into the NCAA Division III Tournament ranked third.

“It always means more every time we win the NJAC,” junior forward Jamie Kunkel said. “Each year after it is over, you look back on the season and sometimes you take winning for granted. You never know when the next one might be your last, so this one means the most so far.”

With a record of 17-0-1, the Lions remain undefeated so far this season. Each of the two previous years the Lions have advanced to the NCAA Division III championship game, taking second place on both occasions.

“We plan on preparing the way we always prepare,” head coach Joe Russo said. “Now it becomes a five-game season. We are going to have to take one game at a time.”

On Oct. 18, the Lions and the Ospreys met during the regular season and played to a 0-0 double-overtime draw. The Lions held a 29-7 shooting edge in the game.

Friday’s home contest to clinch the NJAC title featured a similar shot advantage for the Lions, 27-4. Much of the game was controlled by the Lions and was played on the Ospreys’ defensive half.

“It is always nice to have days where we can finish our scoring chances,” junior forward Laura Delaney said. “It takes so much pressure off of everybody, not just the offense but the defense as well.”

Kunkel broke through in the 10th minute when she hit a pass from sophomore forward Briann McDonough into the back of the net.

Late in the first half, the Lions had another great opportunity to score when freshman forward Julianne Delorenzo was taken down inside the penalty box. The ensuing penalty kick was slammed off the top right crossbar by senior defender Courtney Krol.

After numerous second-half opportunities Kunkel was able to sail a chip shot over Osprey junior goalkeeper Alex Roger’s head with 10 minutes left to give the Lions a 2-0 lead. The shot came after junior forward Allie Schilling’s shot deflected off the crossbar. McDonough collected the loose ball and slid the pass to Kunkel, picking up her 11th assist of the season.

Kunkel also set up senior forward Dana DiBruno’s goal just three minutes later. DiBruno settled the chip cross from Kunkel around the 12-yard line and slipped a shot past the goalkeeper.

“We always seem to know where each other is on the field,” Kunkel said, referring to DiBruno. “She and I seem to know exactly what kind of run each other is making. I don’t know, we just have this connection.”

It was the ninth time that Kunkel and DiBruno have teamed up to score for the Lions this season.

Stockton pushed many of its players forward with a few minutes left in the game in an attempt to score. The all-out attack resulted in a goal for freshman forward Amanda Altman, her 13th of the season.

Lions’ sophomore goalkeeper Jessica Clarke made two saves in the net.

The Lions advanced to the NJAC Finals by edging out Montclair State University 1-0 on Tuesday.

Once again the shot attempts were in favor of the Lions, 26-4.

“We were working the ball well in the beginning of the first half,” Delaney said. “But we got complacent and let them hang in there because we did not finish our opportunities.”

Junior midfielder Coleen Weber scored the lone goal in the 50th minute. She put away a loose ball in the Red Hawks’ penalty box to record her fifth goal of the year.

Clarke finished the game with three saves for her ninth shutout of the year.

With many of the seven seniors playing key roles, this may be the year the Lions achieve their goal of winning a national championship.

“I do not think there is any rhyme or reason to our winning,” Russo said. “We have consistently won with younger girls and older girls. This is a very good group, a very together group. They have great chemistry and we are all excited to see how we will do.”