EWING, NJ - As Milburn coach Andy Sones embraced senior goalkeeper Tori Graessle one thing was very clear: Milburn could finally be called, “State Champion.” The Lady Millers defeated the Hopewell Valley Bulldogs in a physical, well-fought match, 4-2 at TCNJ on Saturday morning.

Heading into halftime the Millers trailed by only one goal, but had been outplayed for most of the first half. As the team huddled, Coach Sones told his girls to stay positive.

“We’re playing well girls,” said Sones, “We’re still in this game, and there’s a lot left to be played.”

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The first half saw the game’s momentum change several times.  The Bulldogs almost struck first in the third minute of the half when Millburn’s Tanya Sood fouled Hopewell’s Leigh Appelstein. Appelstein lined up the ball 25 yards out and struck the crossbar; Millburn could breathe easy.

In the 18th minute, Hopwell’s Jenna Kalwa sought to clear a ball but missed and instead took out Millburn’s Taylor Perretti in the box. Without hesitation the official pointed to the spot for a penalty kick. Perretti stepped up to the spot and converted, slotting a well placed ball just out of the reach of keeper Elise Fengler. Thirty seconds later the Bulldogs’ Kelly Williams bent in a beautiful ball to beat Graessle.

The Millers’ Jenny Olensky then lost the ball to Meghan Nehila on a tough challenge. Nehila broke a run and dropped a pass into Whitney Bickford’s feet, and she scored her 12thgoal of the season as she easily beat Graessle to make it 2-1 Hopwell just before half-time.

At halftime Hopewell Valley coach John McGinley reminded his girls that the game could be over if they netted a quick second half goal.

“Quick goal,” started McGinley, “We get them quick, and then we can hold them off.”

McGinley’s halftime talk inspired the Bulldogs. Five minutes of tough Bulldog attack seemed to have pinned back the Millers in their own half of the field, until Coach Sones allowed Nikki Willens to press forward.

Willens took over the second half and almost scored in the 54th minute. In the 57th minute Katie Beimfohr, the Millers’ heart of the midfield, placed a ball over the top of the Hopewell defense for Willens, who beat her marker and slotted the ball into the back of the net.

Five minutes later Willens struck again. After winning another ball in midfield Willens dribbled five yards and found herself at the 25 yard line. Seeing the goalie positioned awkwardly, Willens tried her luck again and scored as the ball soared over Fengler, hit the cross bar, and went in.

Two minutes later Millburn closed out Hopewell Valley when Emily Biemfohr placed a through ball to Izzy Gordon. Gordon beat out both of her defenders on a brilliant run and then lasered the ball into the back of the net.

As the Millburn players were presented with the Group 3 title by NJSIAA president, James Loper, the squad held up the number 1, the Lady Millers’ new moniker.