BRIDGEWATER, NJ -- The Bridgewater-Raritan girls lacrosse team has 17 returning players in 2019, and they give head coach Kathie DeBonis plenty of cause to believe the Panthers will have a good chance to defend their Somerset County Tournament championship.

But, this year, DeBonis hopes this crew can also capture the title that eluded them last spring – the Section 2, Group 4 championship. Bridgewater-Raritan reached the final, but lost to Westfield in the title game to conclude a 16-5 season.

Eight of this year's returning seniors should spearhead BRHS' drive to repeat as county champs: Tai Jankowski, Meghan Ball, Sadie Herman, Lizzy Escudero, Julieann Murphy, Heather Stires, Mandy Petrillo and Dara Tracy. That group includes four Division 1 college recruits: Jankowski (James Madison University), Ball (Rutgers), Herman (American U.) and Escudero (Marquette).

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Jankowski racked up 119 points as a junior, with 79 goals and 40 assists. Herman scored 36 goals and had 16 assists last season. Escudero netted 55 goals and passed for 13 assists last year.

Juniors Dara Tracy, Kali Moore, Madison Bray and Lizzy Hanemann are returning players expected to play a big role for the Panthers, whose key roster departures include CJ Amster, Rachel White and Kelsey Kaplowitz. Senior Lailah El Bouazzaoui and junior goalie Gia Mitchell could see expanded roles this season.

DeBonis counts an attack that is balanced and versatile, a tough and stingy defensive unit and "great senior leadership" among Bridgewater-Raritan's most enduring strengths heading into Wednesday's opening game against Bernards High School.

"(We) fell short in the final against Westfield last spring. This year's group, which includes 17 returning players, will certainly be motivated to get back to the county and group finals again this year," DeBonis said. "(We're) looking to continue to build upon where they left off last year."