At the beginning of the season, the Lions sought to sit atop the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) once more. Seven games into this season the team is well on its way to achieving that goal and reclaiming the NJAC title.
After starting 5-0 this season, the Lions chalked up two more wins this week, including one against NJAC archrival Kean University.
Their hot start has landed the team at eighth in the current National Soccer Coaches Association of America Division III poll.
“It’s a good mix of younger kids and returning players,” head coach Joe Russo said. “We’re playing very, very well, and it’s a collective effort.”
However, coach Russo still believes in the “one game at a time” philosophy.
“There’s a lot of soccer to be played,” Russo said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
The College squeaked out the road victory against Kean in the final minutes of the game, as junior forward Briann McDonough tallied the lone score for both teams with 3:35 left in regulation. It was the co-captain’s fourth of the season, and her third game-winner.
“Bri’s goal was allowed by previous touches, and it was everything just coming together,” coach Russo said. “But she’s been outstanding. To assert herself and be such a factor from last year to this year, it’s remarkable.”
McDonough’s clutch play is not the only way the Lions have won their first seven games. The team has set the pace of each and every contest by completely outshooting their opponents. Against the Cougars, the Lions won the shots-on-goal battle 25-6, including 12-2 on corner kicks.
“We played very well in stretches of the game and grabbed hold of it, but then it would get away from us,” coach Russo said. “For awhile, it became a scramble.”
The shutout was senior goalkeeper Jess Clarke’s fifth of the season. She just needed four saves to hold down the fort in net for the College.
“All of the positions on our team have been doing a tremendous job defensively,” Clarke said. “We have made sure to stress the importance of defense, and when everyone on the team is defending well together as a unit, it becomes a problem for other teams to create any offense.”
The same trend occurred in their nationally-ranked game against No. 15-ranked and undefeated Swarthmore College. With a decided 26-2 advantage in shots on goal, the Lions tallied a goal in each half to secure yet another victory 2-0.
“Our style of play allows us be more of a threat especially when our backline gets involved offensively,” Clarke said. “We have been successful in coming out strong and creating great opportunities to score.”
The Garnet, 5-0 before this defeat, was unable to muster any offense in this one. Clarke made another pair of saves in goal, and the Lions earned their third shutout in a row.
“Any time we get a shutout, we’re excited.” Russo said. “It’s an all-together thing, and when we defend with a purpose, it makes Jess’ job easier.”
On offense, the Lions scored midway through the first half off the foot of midfielder Casey Caruso. The junior’s third score on the campaign was assisted by Briann McDonough.
The second and final score of the contest came when rookie forward Alexa Rozzi scored on a feed from sophomore defender Nikki Migliori.
“They (the younger players) are big part of this start,” Russo said. “We play a lot of young kids, and they’re good young players. They know what it takes to be successful, and they’re only going to get better and better.”
With youth and experience together, the Lions have pulled off a run that could very well lead them to another NJAC title, but coach Russo isn’t looking too far ahead.
“I’m not clairvoyant and I can’t predict what’s going to happen,” Russo said. “Our motto is just get better every day. Let’s work hard, support each other, concentrate on what the task at hand is, and let’s see where it takes us.”
After winning their first NJAC game, the Lions look to continue that in-conference success when it travels to Gettysburg, Penn. to take on the no. 22-ranked Profs of Rowan University at 5 p.m.