NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – This past Tuesday night, the New Providence Lady Pioneers Soccer team was down 2-0 to a tough and ambitious Verona squad who had run through Section 1 like Cinderella, and had one shoulder pinned to the mat with the other shoulder precariously close to ending their season. Somewhere within themselves they pulled themselves off the mat and decided as a team that their season was not going to end that night.
In a season full of clutch performances and team contributions, they rallied to tie Verona with 6 minutes left on a goal by Kelly Carroll as they played like a team possessed. In a fitting finish, Alex Schlobohm completed the comeback with a spectacular goal in overtime to send the Pioneers to the State Championship game. For without that amazing 35 minutes of soccer, the Pioneers may very well have been watching the finals from the stands or sitting home and thinking about what might have been.
The Lady Pioneers made the trip down to Trenton Saturday with several questions to be answered. Could they get their defensive rock and captain in Nicole Saitta back for the game despite a 60 stitch cut to her face? Would they be able to solve the offensive juggernaut from Haddon Township who had steamrolled their way to the finals from South Jersey? Would Coach Scott Murphy’s team believe in the game plan and execute it from the opening whistle to defend its Group 1 title?
With a 4-0 victory in yesterday’s state final, the Pioneers not only answered all of those questions in the affirmative, but they played perhaps a "perfect game" in completely dominating the Lady Hawks from Haddon Township before 1,000 fans at The College of New Jersey on Saturday to capture their second consecutive Group 1 State Championship.
Saitta returned in “Willis Reed” fashion sporting a jerry-rigged protective bandage, played a magnificent game at center back while her presence on the field inspired the other starting ten as they completely controlled the match. Taking a page out of the movie “Any Given Sunday,” Saitta and the other captains shared a theme with the team the night before compelling each player to fight for every inch on the field together. As a team they delivered those inches within every battle won as they secured the entire pitch and ultimately the game itself.
The Pioneers came out on the attack, but it was Saitta, along with fellow backliners Ashley Evangelos, Tori Crisafi, and Jenna Madden combining to smoother Haddon Twp’s dynamic duo of Patrice Maro and Nicky Cutrera who came into the game representing half of the Hawks offensive output. This set the tone for the match as the Pioneers registered their 15th shutout on the season in front of goalkeeper Jill Ashinsky, who needed to make just 3 saves.
New Providence went up 1-0 in the 36th minute as Casey Trezza fired in a shot from 15 yards after a swarming Pioneer offense had peppered the Lady Hawks in seizing control of the match. It was a year ago that Trezza fired in a game winner against Pennsville to clinch the Pioneer’s championship from nearly the same spot. Trezza along with Anna Crisafi and captains Emma Culleton and Stephanni Perini held possession for the majority of the first half as New Providence headed into halftime with confidence.
The Pioneers came out flying in the second half and took the match over as Kelly Carroll and Alex Schlobohm continued to get open behind the Haddon Twp backline. In the 45th minute Carroll headed a chance just wide of the post, while Scholbohm continued to knife through the Hawk defense with surgical precision and creating space. But it was Evangelos who ran onto Culleton’s perfect service from the corner for a 2-0 Pioneer lead heading in her 3rd goal of the season in the 53rd minute.
While the Pioneers played keep away, the Hawks were unable to put passes together and their frustration was clear as Maro and Cutrera stood with hands on hips, wondering if they were going to ever see the ball again. Evangelos and Madden did a commendable job in denying them the ball; tackling when needed, while Tori Crisafi and Saitta cleaned up the loose balls to send the Pioneers in transition.
In the 66th minute, Schlobohm, the Pioneers leading scorer, shook loose from her mark and danced through a trio of Hawk defenders en-route to an electrifying strike off the far post for her 19th goal on the season that sent the Pioneer faithful into a frenzy. For Schlobohm, it was a fitting result as she fought through double coverage from the open of the game, but used her skill to distribute the ball to teammates which Haddon Township was not prepared to defend.
The Lady Pioneers held Haddon Township without a shot over the final 25 minutes, Coach Murphy continued to roll his lineup and in the 75th minute, Paige Carleen made a brilliant move pulling the ball back to her left and curled a shot into the far corner from 12 yards out to complete the scoring. From there the crowd counted down the final seconds and Athletic Director Rob Harmer received the championship trophy and handed it to Coach Murphy.
For Murphy, the title was his third since taking the program over in 2003. “This game was a four-year effort for our seniors,” Murphy said. “I think our Verona game helped us out because that right there was probably our best game of the year”.
Few people who witnessed the performance could disagree with him.