BASKING RIDGE, NJ -- After reaching the Group 4 state championship game for three consecutive years, the pack of talented teams in central and northern New Jersey caught up to the Ridge girls soccer program in 2018, and the Red Devils had a very rare below-.500 season.
Still, even as they struggled to score for much of the campaign, the Red Devils continued a pattern under coach Katie Donahue of playing much better later in the season than early, and they did go on the road to take a convincing victory over Bayonne in the opening round of the state tournament, then battled Watchung Hills to a second overtime before losing a thriller in the second round of the playoffs.
The Ridge name still carries considerable weight in girls soccer circles around New Jersey, and Donahue has made it a mission of the team to regain its lofty reputation in 2019.
"We are looking to put the pieces together and make a statement in our conference and section after a down 2018 campaign," Donahue said."With players back from injury and other additions to the team, we are looking to be organized, play with pace, and move the ball."
The coach has named as tri-captains Zoey Mitzner, Heather Cortese and Cammie Wylie. Mitzner, a senior midfielder, is a playmaker who "threads the ball, connects the field (and is a) catalyst," according to Donahue. Cortese, a senior attacking center-midfielder always known for her offensive skills, is a left-footer with impressive range. Wylie, one of several Ridge players to suffer ACL injuries over the last couple of years, is a senior stopper who will anchor the backline with her ample strength and speed.
Now seniors, the McEnroe twins both suffered ACL injuries as sophomores before coming back during their junior seasons. Caroline McEnroe will play striker. Donahue calls her a player with a "non-stop work rate (who) hustles (and) looks to be our No. 9 up top with physical presence, speed and power." Meaghan McEnroe is a fast, physical outside back who looks to get into the attack.
Senior forward Bailey Aaron, a veteran of several varsity seasons now, gives Ridge speed down the flank and is a solid lacrosse player, as well. Senior Adriana Giordano brings her leadership qualities to the pitch as a defensive center midfielder.
Seniors who are new to the varsity include Kaitlyn McQuaid, Sammi Powers and Megan Becker, all of whom should see time on the back line.
Among the junior players returning for Ridge, center back Gabby Allen has a wealth of experience, having played regularly for the varsity since her freshman season. Left-footed midfielder Becca Picardo provides "tremendous crossing capability," according to Donahue. Abigail McCrea may be shifted from the back line to the flanks, where she can employ her technical skills and speed to get behind the defense. A defender last year, Olivia Pikiell has moved to goalie to employ her considerable athleticism. Pikiell also plays for highly successful Ridge basketball and lacrosse programs in the winter and spring.
Junior forward Kaitlin Aiello has been sidelined by an injury in the pre-season after missing some of her sophomore year with another injury. Midfielder Lauren Feldman and forward Ryan Rosevear are juniors up from JV who'll be given the chance to see meaningful minutes, too.
Two sophomores who bear watching are Payton Uhrig and Amanda Mertz. Uhrig, a left-footed winger, missed her freshman season with a torn ACL but has shown that her fast-paced ability and her knack for one-on-one plays are back intact now. Mertz could see action on the back line or in midfield when she recovers from a pre-season leg injury.
Ridge opens its season Tuesday afternoon at Montgomery. The Red Devils' first home game will be at 5 p.m. Thursday against Toms River North.