CLARK, NJ — Redemption is a sweet thing.
Through well-executed set pieces and total offensive dominance, the Westfield girls’ soccer team avenged a 2016 Union County Tournament (UCT) semifinal loss against Oak Knoll by defeating the Royals in a 2017 rematch Sunday night at A.L. Johnson High School. The Lady Blue Devils will battle rival Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the UCT final next weekend.
With a true post-season feel under the lights, Grace Elliott scored two goals — one in the first half and one in the second — and Natalie Bond added another tally for Westfield, which improved to a perfect 16-0 with the victory.
“Our team is all about pressure this season, just getting on them early,” Elliott said. “That showed in the first ten minutes of the game, with two goals.”
The two goals Westfield scored in the first half came on nearly identical plays, and occurred less than a minute apart. Both times, the plays started on corner kicks off the foot of Josie Greenwood, and both times, a Westfield player sent the ball to the back of the net from inside the six-box.
On the first set piece in the sixth minute, Greenwood’s kick touched Kylinn Kraemer before finding the foot of Natalie Bond, who muscled the ball off her foot and between the posts. Greenwood’s second corner came a minute later — this time, Grace Elliott got her head on Greenwood’s ball and pushed it to the upper reaches of the net.
“In practice, we know exactly where we want to put it [on set pieces], so I knew right where I wanted to put the ball,” said Greenwood, originator of both goals. “We worked on it this week throughout practice, so I knew what I had to do.”
Elliott put the finishing touches on Westfield’s victory four minutes into the second half. She received a pass from Katie Butler, dribbled through multiple Oak Knoll defenders and buried the strike from about 30 yards out.
With her two goals Sunday, Elliott now leads the team with 11.
“It’s just unreal; I was not expecting that to happen,” Elliott said of her performance and scoring Westfield’s second goal in less than a minute. “I just wanted to come out here and put all my work ethic into it, and it just worked out for me.”
In addition to the two goal scorers, contributing on offense was Kraemer, Greenwood and Butler, all of whom tallied assists. Butler leads the team with eight assists.
Westfield’s defense was also rolling Sunday night. The Lady Blue Devils’ backline put the clamps on Oak Knoll and limited the Royals to just one shot on goal the entire game.
“We know [Oak Knoll] sits a deep sweeper, so we practiced this the first time we played and really tried to find the seams on the outside,” said head coach Alex Schmidt. “Oak Knoll is very different than last year … We talked about it no being so much of a revenge game, just want to get onto the finals.”
“Now it’s the postseason, so we’re adding new things to the arsenal of free kicks, corners and set plays, because that’s what it comes down to,” the coach added about his executed set pieces. “We’ve won on free kicks and we’ve lost on free kicks — we’ve been on both sides of the ball.”
Goalkeeper Caitlin Amman stopped the one Oak Knoll shot to record the shutout — her 12th of the season.
For the past seven years, Union County has belonged to Scotch Plains-Fanwood, but Westfield will look to flip the script and put an end to the Raiders’ streak next weekend. A date and location is still to be determined.
“It couldn’t be a better setup for us,” said Elliott of the upcoming championship game. “We’re just going to work on possession in practice, just getting touches on the ball and working hard towards that county final.”