BASKING RIDGE — Somerville has come out as one of the premier girls’ soccer teams in the state early this year, and Sunday, it got a statement win in what is shaping up to be a special fall for the Pioneers.
Playing in the prestigious first-annual “Mountain vs. Seas” girls’ soccer showcase to benefit pediatric cancer, Somerville remained unbeaten with a statement 2-1 win over perennial parochial powerhouse St. John Vianney of Holmdel Sunday morning at Pingry School.
Vanessa Leon scored the go-ahead game-winning goal in the 48th minute, while Emily Cleary also scored for the Pioneers, now 8-0. With the shutout, Somerville has allowed just two goals in its first eight games.
“This win and the win against Ridge really goes good for our conference,” Somerville head coach Jordi Meijer said. “We added some games to our schedule to prepare us better for states; Ridge was one of those and this was one… It’s gonna help us get better.”
Despite Somerville handily controlling the run of play, the Somerset and Monmouth County squads were mired in a 1-1 tie at the break after exchanging goals in the first half. But Somerville continued to apply pressure as the second half started, and needed just eight minutes to break free for good.
On a Pioneers possession deep down the right flank with 32:00 remaining, Leon and Nina Carlson had been playing 1-2 balls back-and-forth with each other before Carlson sent one more towards the middle. Leon broke free to play the ball and lifted a shot above St. John Vianney keeper Kiera Diamond, as the ball bounced perfectly into the goal to give the Pioneers a decisive 2-1 lead.
“We were doing like combo 1-2 passes, and then she played it to the middle,” Leon said. “I saw the opportunity to shoot so I kind of just touched it out and played it, hoping for the best. Then at first, I wasn’t sure if it went in because of the lines, but I’m just happy about it.”
The goal was Leon’s first career, though she did contribute two assists last season.
“It feels amazing and I just love being with this team,” Leon said. “Learning from this experience just makes me better as a player.”
Somerville struck first on a chilly late September morning when Emily Cleary finished a cross sent from Kylie Sullivan in the 21st minute after the Pioneers nearly scored on countless chances earlier. Sullivan sent a high, lofting cross from the right corner into the box where it found Cleary at the left post, who subtly tapped it into the net.
“We work a lot of the overlapping runs — everyone needs to be able to run,” Meijer said. “It broadens us as a team if everyone can make that play.”
That perfect execution gave the Pioneers a 1-0 lead, but it only lasted for 11 minutes.
Chances were few and far between for St. John Vianney, but the Lancers equalized it in the 32nd minute on Emily Ruane’s impressive goal from 35 yards out. Ruane scored unassisted on a stunning boot that kept sailing before meeting the net above Somerville keeper Lauren Ciufo’s hands.
However, Somerville’s tenacious four-girl backline — featuring Jessica DeSarno, Abby Umbenhaur, Jenna Potts, and Farrell Owens — didn’t break after that, and only allowed about two more shots the rest of the way. After Sunday, the Pioneers’ defensive brick wall and Ciufo in goal — who made four saves — has only allowed one goal to Vianney and Vorhees, and has posted six shutouts.
“We’ve played eight games; we’ve given up two goals,” Meijer said. “That says a lot about our backline. Jess DeSarno is anchoring that with the right timing, right tackling, and in addition, she’s just winning the ball. They’re the start of our offense.”
“I’ve been very happy; this is my first year with them,” the coach added. “At the beginning of the season, we were trying to figure who we have. As we get along, it just keeps getting better.”
About The Event
The Mountains vs. The Seas is a showcase between 14 premier teams from the Skyland and Shore conferences, both of which are among the most competitive in the nation. The event has raised over $40,000 for pediatric cancer through the program, “Go For The Goal.” Watchung Hills head coach Brian Figueiredo organized the inaugural event.
The other games Sunday, played on Pingry's three fields, were: Shore vs. Mount St. Mary; Middletown South vs. Watchung Hills; Toms River North vs. Ridge; Freehold Township vs. Hunterdon Central; Jackson Memorial vs. Bridgewater-Raritan; and Red Bank Catholic vs. host Pingry.