MILLBURN, NJ - The Millburn girls soccer team opened up their season on Thursday afternoon with a steely determination after finishing last season 7-10. This year's seniors are determined to make 2017 a winning season and place higher than last season's 7th seed in the Super Essex Conference - Liberty Division.
“I want to look back on my senior year as one that I’m proud of,” said senior Peri Lamkin. “In my three years with the program, we have lost more than we have won. I want 2017 to be a winning year.”
The Lady Millers hosted Nutley in the season opener, with an opportunity to begin their 2017 campaign with a statement win.
Nutley, led by all-stars Jenny Callaghan and Zoe Steck, handled Millburn 3-0 last year. However, the two standouts have now graduated, and the Lady Raiders were forced to turn over a new leaf and look to the understudies to take on bigger roles.
“When you have a good team, and you score a lot of goals, everybody gets on the field, so being ahead 3-0 at a halftime last year got a lot of girls playing time,” the coach told TAP in a previous interview. “All the returners have gotten a lot of time on the field, so now it’s their time to step up.”
Graduation did not hurt the Lady Millers as much as Nutley. Instead, Coach Hogan’s squad returns with star power all over the field, including last year’s freshman phenom Chloe Zegas, senior forwards Lamkin and Ava Belcuore, and star keeper Katherine Kuiken.
The Lady Millers came out of the gate aggressive, a strategy that the squad plans on testing this year, as opposed to their defense-and-counter strategy from last season. The offense breathed through Zegas, as Millburn, especially in the first half, tried to force lead passes to Zegas, hoping that her exceptional speed would prevail. However, Nutley’s defense, led by fourth-year starting sweeper Lauren Holden and keeper Jillian Desantis, shut Millburn down.
In the end, Millburn’s offense was their best defense. The team dictated the tempo and controlled the ball for most of the game, setting up shop on Nutley’s half of the field, and keeping them on the defensive. Kuiken had a relatively slow day at the office, with only six shots against her on goal.
In the second half, Millburn’s most prominent forwards, Maggie Speckhart, Belcuore, and Zegas, needed to sit. Although it was not a particularly hot day, the oppressive sun seemed to wipe out some of the Lady Millers. Millburn’s strong bench was able to sustain the Miller's game until the refreshed starters returned. The game went into overtime, a scoreless deadlock at full time.
Just minutes into the first golden goal (sudden death) overtime period, Zegas was approaching the box when she was tied up and thrown to the ground by a Nutley defender. The result was a free kick just two yards outside the box. Belcuore took the direct kick and bent it past Desantis to win the game.
“It was the best feeling ever especially winning in overtime,” said Belcuore. “Having everyone come over to me was such a relief that we won. We should always have this energy on the field from the start. I knew that I would score. It was the perfect time to take the win.”
Belcuore and the Lady Millers will look to continue their success on Saturday when they visit Clifton.