UNION, NJ - Summit goalie Maddie Collins had been there before. Figuratively and literally.
In the crease on the Kean University turf. One goal game. A title in the balance. Facing down an opposing shooter with all the marbles on the line.
Indeed, when last on campus of the Cougars -- just shy of a year ago -- Collins was backstopping the Hilltoppers to the 2016 Tournament of Champions crown, make a seismic save in overtime versus Ridgewood.
Yup -- Collins has been there, done that. And, she got the T-Shirt. A Champions T-Shirt.
So there was Collins again. A champion playing like a champion. The senior captain making 10 saves -- including a half-dozen or so that were suitable for framing -- to lead the Summit High School Girls Varsity Lacrosse Team to a famous victory.
On this day, Collins ended her heroic day by stoning a Moorestown free position opportunity inside the contest's final 20 seconds, sealing a 9-8 win over the Quakers and sending Summit -- now NJSIAA Group 3 Champions -- into the Tournament of Champions for the fifth consecutive season.
There, the defending TOC Champs will face a very familiar, semifinal foe in the form of the Oak Knoll Royals. The Hilltoppers will take on their Hilltop City neighbors June 7 at Middletown North High School, which is located at 63 Tindall Road in Middletown. Game time is set for 5 p.m.
What was widely anticipated to be the most competitive of the four Group Finals -- pitting two high-octane, juggernaut programs against one another -- more than lived up to its billing.
Summit jolted out to a 4-1 lead, surrendered six of the next seven goals, looked like their collective needle was approaching 'E', then switched to auxiliary fuel reserves to power back to tie the game and eventually take the lead, were caught late, went back ahead even later, and then staved off their opponents in the waning seconds.
All in one game.
Helen Louise Johnson had a Hat Trick, including the game-winner with 1:56 remaining, and Katia Carnevale and Julia Szynal each added a pair of scores for The Maroon and White, now 19-2 on the season.
Szynal opened the scoring two and a-half minutes into the game, and Summit started brightly, winning crucial 50-50 balls off the draw and defending with vigor.
After Moorestown's Robin Panzarella leveled things at 1-1 at the 21:41 mark, the Hilltoppers began to feel their oats against the Quakers, methodically potting three goals in a row from Carnevale, Anna Huntley-Robertson and Syznal again.
Up 4-1 halfway through the opening 25 minutes, Summit appeared to be in command, but then Moorestown showed its pedigree and began wresting control of the affair from the Hilltoppers and creating chances.
Ava Frantz made it 4-2, then Panzarella's second tally two-plus minutes later narrowed Summit's lead to 4-3. After Johnson scored to make it 5-3 Summit with 7:42 left, the field began to tilt even more in favor of Moorestown.
Kacey Knoblach scored the Quakers' fourth at the 6:58 mark, and then Quinn Nicola tied the game at five with just two ticks remaining before the break.
Nicola opened the second-half scoring to give the Quakers the lead at 21:18, and then Knoblach made it 7-5 Quakers six minutes later with her second of the game.
Summit looked gassed, like a marathoner who was preparing to bonk. But then, as champions do, they found a reservoir of energy, strength and courage, started winning ground balls and dispossessing their opponent, and Collins kept doing headstands, as in standing on her head.
The resolute resilience resulted in Johnson putting in her own rebound to make it 7-6 at the 14:25 mark. Soon thereafter, Cecily Stabler -- off a free position opportunity -- found Anna Turk who buried her chance and the game was knotted again, this time at 7-7.
Carnevale completed the three-goals-in-three-plus-minutes skedaddle and, with 10:45 left, the Hilltoppers led 8-7.
Back and forth play ensued, Collins stood tall, and Summit had the ball with four minutes left. For supporters of the girls from the 07901 things were looking good, until Carnevale was called for a charging foul while standing stationary setting a screen.
Putting aside, for a nanosecond, the fact that the infraction -- given her mannequin-like stance -- is clinically impossible, the Quakers took over possession, and soon insult became injury when Kayla Frank tied the game with 3:49 remaining.
Summit got the next draw, collected by Stabler -- one of seven massive loose-ball victories for the senior captain on the day -- and set up shop in the Quakers zone.
The ball made its way to Johnson who darted into the middle and rifled home. There was still 1:59 remaining, an eternity in lacrosse, but Summit had regained the lead at 9-8.
Stabler vacuumed up yet another rolling rock off the next draw and then saw daylight. She motored in hard from the right and shot, but it was saved and the Quakers got the ball with 90 seconds left.
Summit defended with valor, but gave up a free position opportunity with 17 seconds to go. Collins made the save down low, collected the rebound, and had sufficient moxie to calmly distribute it to Szynal, who escorted the ball out of danger as the clock expired and the requisite, celebratory mosh pit transpired forthwith.
Afterward, Summit Head Coach Mike Walsh was justifiably amped, and said of the game and his team, "What a game. Maddie came up really big today, and we made it a dog fight in the center circle. They gave us problems in transition, one area of the game where we struggled with our poise a bit. People sometimes forget how young we are, so those things are bound to happen."
On Summit second-half resurgence, Walsh said, "When we scored to cut it to 7-6 that gave us some juice and, when we tied it seven, it really gave us juice. Moorestown is a tremendous program and they played us very physical, but I thought we dealt with it well. We were able to get the ball, and we put the ball in the goal when we needed to."