RANDOLPH, NJ - This time it will be on their turf. For the second straight year, the Randolph girls soccer team earned themselves a trip to the state finals when Katja Brackelmanns-Puig won a foot race and hammered in the winning goal with only 12 minutes left to secure in a 2-1 victory over Ridgewood on Tuesday.
The "trip" this year will be a short walk out the door of Randolph High and onto DaSilva Memorial Field, courtesy of Randolph's No. 1 seed in the tournament. In last year's final, the Lady Rams traveled to Livingston and dominated play, spending most of the game firing shots toward the Livingston net. Sun glare and a lucky bounce gave Livingston an early 1-0 lead, and great goaltending play held onto it for the Lancers.
Randolph has been itching for another opportunity at that title. Sophomore Ashley Chipoletti is more focused this year on achieving that goal. She explained, "Last year I was just a freshman learning; this year I have more experience and know we have to keep digging and working."
Chipoletti did just that in the semifinal game, digging into her bag of tricks to spring the Rams to a 1-0 lead midway through the first half when she converted on a beautiful corner kick.
"I wanted to curve it in because I've been practicing that, so I used the inside of my foot on the kick, and it curved the ball right into the net." said Chipoletti
The half ended at 1-0, and the second half began with a similar feel, as the Rams seemed to be in control of play. They worked hard to create pressure in the offensive end, both up the sideline and down the middle, but couldn't seem to get many balls on net.
At the 23-minute mark, Ridgewood struck back with a goal on a corner kick of their own. After a mad scramble in front of the net, the ball slipped out from under a pile of Randolph defenders, and a Ridgewood player who was practically in the net tipped the ball in with the back of her foot.
Urgency set in, and Randolph turned up the pressure. With the clock approaching 12:00 left, senior Rachel Kral took possession of the ball deep in Randolph territory, and started up the right sideline. She then sent the ball 40 yards upfield with a beautiful lead pass to Brackelmanns-Puig, who sprinted past two Ridgewood defenders and walked in on the goalie one-on-one.
After an initial shot and save, Brackelmanns-Puig stayed focused, followed her rebound, and sent the ball past the sprawled out goaltender for a 2-1 lead.
"That goal was very exciting," she said. "We were tied, and the the last few minutes were real cut-throat. But anyone on the team could've done that, as teammates, we all expect that out of each other, it just happened to be me today."
In the final 12 minutes both teams played aggressively and generated good opportunities to change the score, but the goalies and the defense held strong, and the game ended 2-1 Randolph.
Randolph coach Colleen Souflay was proud of her team's play, stating "It was a great effort today. The girls really have been putting a lot of hard work in."
After a spectacular season in 2013, Souflay had four seniors leave to play Division I soccer. However, her team didn't miss a beat, racking up an even better record this season.
"I always expect us to be competitive, but I am so respectful of what they have accomplished this year with the team chemistry, unity, and leadership." Souflay said.
When asked what she's going to tell the team before the finals game on Friday, Souflay responded, "What I've been telling them all year: have fun. "
The Lady Rams play the sectional finals home on Friday Nov. 14 at 2 p.m. against Montclair.