SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ - The 2015 Greater Middlesex Conference field hockey tournament final took place on Thursday afternoon, and it looked a lot like last year’s final. On a neutral field in South Brunswick, last year’s runner up, top seeded South Plainfield High School rematched the returning champions, second seeded Monroe. The outcome ended up being the same as well. Despite the best efforts of the Tigers, the Falcons once again went home with the GMC title and the trophy, this time defeating South Plainfield 2-0.
The two teams had met two times earlier in the regular season, with the Falcons winning the first game on Sept 9, 2-1, and the Tigers taking the second one on Sept 29, 4-0. Even if you didn’t know the teams’ past history, you could probably tell they were familiar with each other by the play of the game. The game was fought tooth and nail, and was a back and forth affair, that saw offensive chances on both sides of the field. At first, it looked the Tigers might get on the scoreboard first. Early in the first half, South Plainfield’s Nicole Zultowski looked to be in great position to finish off a breakaway but the reflexes of Monroe goalkeeper Zoe Rosen thwarted that attack.
“We came out here and we knew what we needed to do.” said Melissa Szeliga, the second year head coach of the Tigers. “Monroe came out really intense and ready to go, which we expected. We knew this is always an emotional and physical game. A few bounces here and there differently and this is a different game completely. It just wasn’t on our side today.”
Thanks to the defenses of both teams, shots were few in the first half. Rosen was tested just once in the first half, while Tiger goalkeeper Stephanie Bohn had two shots on goal come her way. That second shot was all Monroe needed though. With four minutes left in the half, Monroe’s Ashlyn Peterson scored an unassisted goal that put Falcons up 1-0.
The Tigers came close to evening the scoreline. With seconds remaining in the half, the Tigers forced two consecutive corners, and on that second one, the ball found itself in Meghan Hughes possession and she put the ball in the top half of the net. Much to the immediate chagrin of the Tigers the shot was waved off by the referees.
The Tigers came out aggressively in the second half, racking up seven corners in that time alone. It was one of those corners though, that set up the game clincher for the Falcons. With 12 minutes left in the game, the Monroe defense created a turnover off a Tiger corner. Nithya Bheeman found Abby Viola open midfield, and Viola beat two Tiger defenders and the goalkeeper to put away the last goal of the evening.
“I’m really proud of the way the girls played today,” said the Tigers head coach. “They left everything out on the field. It’s definitely not what we wanted, but they worked together and worked hard, which is what we’ve been preaching this whole time.”
The Tigers hope to bounce back strong in state-tournament play. Szeliga hopes this experience can help the Tigers in their preparations for the teams in their section.
“Moving forward, I think this is a really good precursor in what to expect in the state tournament.” said Szeliga. “We have a stacked section this year, with all the shuffling around we’ve got Madison, Bernards, Voorhees, who are really tough and highly ranked teams in the state this year so this is a good start moving forward to the rest of the postseason.”