WEST ORANGE, NJ — A year after making school history, the West Orange girls soccer program enters its 2019 season with enough talent and momentum to again pose a formidable threat in both Essex County and the state Group 4 level.
In 2018, the Mountaineers won the first Essex County Tournament championship as well as the first sectional title in the history of the program. They also put together a state-leading 39-game unbeaten streak over the past two seasons before Bridgewater-Raritan snapped that in the Group 4 state semifinals.
And although coach Sean Devore will have to move on without the talents of graduated players Mya Bembry, Nyah Harper, Morgan Clark, Hannah Villasin and Katilyn Charles—each of whom made an indelible mark on the program over the last few years—the depth of talent and commitment that remains gives the coach legitimate hope that 2019 can be another special season.
"Although we graduated a lot, we return a lot of very talented players," said Devore, whose team was 19-1-2 last year.
With all the significant personnel losses acknowledged, the Mountaineers still have last year's leading scorer back. Senior midfielder Natalie Nevins, who scored 17 goals and assisted on 21 goals in 2018, plans to continue playing soccer for Division 1 St. Joseph's University. Juniors Kaya Schultz (seven goals, nine assists) and Emma Mitchell (11 goals, eight assists) join Nevins to comprise a midfield unit that might be unparallelled in the area.
Two sophomores who made a major impact as ninth-graders strengthen West Orange up front and in the back. Forward Kiley Capstraw, a two-sport star with a bright basketball future, had six goals and six assists and handled many of the Mountaineers' set pieces last season. Sophomore Tori Rideau-Winds and senior Kiara Machuca are solid defenders on the back line. Goalie Cassidy Joyce, a senior, should team with them to make scoring against the Mountaineers a real chore.
Two freshmen Devore will be breaking into the lineup are back Anna Deer and midfielder Sidda Mitchell.
As the program has continued to gather steam over the last several seasons, Devore has stressed the importance of conditioning. He hopes that this year's group will, again, be able to have the advantage in stamina against its opponents.
"We are very fit and can possess and go forward," Devore said. "We are still young and helping girls to become acclimated with their new positions and roles."
West Orange opens its season at home on Thursday, Sept. 5 against Montclair at 4 p.m.