BASKING RIDGE, NJ - The Ridge girls soccer program is used to carrying around the weight of lofty expectations.
That goes with the territory for a program that has reached the Group 4 state championship game three years in a row, sharing the state crown in two of those seasons, including last year, when the Red Devils played Freehold Township to a 0-0 tie in the title game.
Although Ridge coach Katie Donahue is used to the process of reloading, the Red Devils will have to account for the loss of even more key graduates than usual from their team. Three critical performers who are back are speedy senior forward Molly Mahoney, who has made a verbal commitment to Elon University after notching five goals and five assists for Ridge as a junior; goalie Ally Lindsey, who was a big part of a team that posted 16 shutouts last season; and junior forward Bailey Aaron, who scored the only goal when Ridge defeated Morris Knolls, 1-0, in the Group 4 state semifinal last year.
But the airtight back line that was also integral to that defensive success must be rebuilt now, with sophomore Gabby Allen, who got valuable playing time in the back as a ninth-grader, now the most experienced hand on defense. Junior Meghan McEnroe is coming back from a knee injury to try and fill one of the other spots on the back line. Her twin sister, midfielder Caroline McEnroe, is also coming back from knee surgery in 2017.
Senior forward Maddie Athanasiou, midfielder Elizabeth Perna, junior midfielder Zoey Mitzner, senior midfielder Caroline Mohan, junior Heather Cortese and senior Amanda Krest are also expected to play major roles. Cortese knocked home two penalty kicks to help decide the shootout round when Ridge advanced past Westfield in the Section 2, Group 4 championship game.
But navigating the always choppy waters of the Skyland Conference, with formidable foes like Bridgewater-Raritan, Watchung Hills, Hunterdon Central, Somerville and Pingry, won't be easy with so many new roles to be filled. Donahue's teams traditionally play better as the season goes on, so the Red Devils can be expected to be toughened up and battle tested by November.