Entering the 2018 girls soccer season there were hopes and dreams for many programs in the Shore Conference of capturing state titles, and in the end there were three programs – Brick Township, Middletown North and Shore Regional – that rose to that challenge and captured their respective sectional titles.

Brick Township had the difficult task of trying to capture the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 3 sectional final against Hopewell Valley in 30-mile-per-hour winds and frigid temperatures.  The Dragons came into the contest with a record of 16-4-2, a second-place finish in A South and another great showing in the Shore Conference Tournament, but the senior-driven team was looking for something more on this day. 

Led by their five seniors – Reilly Beggs, Danielle Christ, Jada Lopez, Mya Mlotkiewcz and Molly Tully – Brick Township was looking to end their 22-year championship drought.  This senior class accounted for 32 of the team’s 24 goals, with Beggs leading the charge with 18 and Christ with 11.  What will be missed the most is the veteran leadership of Tully in goal for the Dragons, who finished her three-year stint as the varsity goalie with 273 saves.

Against Hopewell Valley, neither team could get any semblance of an offense going due to the high winds, so it came down to ball possession and creativity.  After a scoreless 60 minutes of play it looked as though the Dragons were going to break the scoreless tie when Beggs fed sophomore Abby Kennelly through one-on-one with the keeper, but Kennelly was unlucky on the finish as the Bulldogs’ keeper kept the tie game intact.

The game would go through a scoreless regulation and double overtime, meaning both teams would be headed to the dreaded penalty kick shootout to see who advances.  When it was all said and done, Brick Township converted their first four opportunities and when Hopewell missed their second of five attempts, the Dragons burst into celebration and mobbed each other to celebrate the championship moment. 

"It was so tough out there today, but we worked through it and took our game to another level, it was great to watch,” said head coach Mike Berardinelli.

Brick’s season ended with the next game, as they fell to Moorestown, 2- 0, in the Group 3 semifinals.  They concluded the season with a record of 17-5-2.

Middletown North had one of its best seasons in program history but were still looking to finish with some championship hardware.  The Lions were poised to capture the Shore Conference Tournament crown but were derailed in a 0-1 loss to eventual champion Toms River North.  This would not hold them back from the next opportunity, as they would regroup and beat Woodbridge in the North Jersey Section 2 Group 3 opening-round game, 8-0.  Next up they would beat Middletown South, 2-0, then West Morris, 2-0, and set up a sectional final with Cranford.

The contest between Middletown North and Cranford was played on the turf in Middletown through heavy rains as temperatures began to drop.  It was important for the Lions to take control early and dictate the game to their strengths.  As they had done all year, the Lions jumped on the board early when senior Lindsay O’Keefe found Ashley Dietrich in the opening minute and Dietrich put Middletown North up, 1-0. 

The Lions would add to their lead in the 15th minute when leading scorer Darien Rinn put Middletown North up, 2-0.  As any coach will tell you, 2-0 does not sit well with them, as teams begin to take the foot off the gas and it can quickly become 2-1 at any moment and the opposing team looking to take control of the game.  This train of thought played out that way as Cranford finally broke through the Lions defense and with just under ten minutes to play, cut the lead to 2-1 heading into halftime. 

All season long, head coach Patricia Misciagna made it known that her senior class was working hard on and off the field to go out on top, and this game would be no different.  In all, Middletown North has 10 seniors that were looking to end their four-year run on top and needed to finish the next 40 minutes with a dominant performance.  Misciagna got just that, as her senior keeper Haley Martin finished with eight saves on the day and continued her senior season of leadership and consistency. 

Then in the 50th minute, Dietrich found the back of the net again and increased the Lions lead to 3-1, and then leaned on their stingy defense to put up another great performance as they have done all season.

Middletown North would hold onto their 3-1 lead and defeat Cranford for their first championship in 13 years.  The impressive season came to an end in a heartbreaking overtime 1-0 loss to Northern Highlands, the No. 2 team in New Jersey.

 After the tears and hugs to end their great season, the Lions can rest assured that they have had one great run that ended with a record of 21-2, first place in B North, semifinalists in SCT tournament, sectional champions and semifinalists in Group 3.  Along the way, they recorded 11 shutouts and outscored their opponents, 76-14.  Rinn finished the season with 20 goals, Dietrich and O’Keefe with 12 each and Martin finished with 153 saves for the season.

St. Rose, one of the unsung dominant teams in the Shore Conference, quietly put together another great season in program history – finishing with an impressive 15-3-1 record and first place finish in B Central.

The Purple Roses however fell short in their quest for a Shore Conference Tournament run, falling to Marlboro in the opening round.  But St. Rose regrouped and went on a 7-0 run to capture their first sectional championship since 2010.

In the New Jersey Non-Public B South tournament, St. Rose took advantage of their No. 3 seed and jumped all over No. 14 seed Saint Joseph of Hammonton, 8-0.  They then held upset-minded Timothy Christian at bay with a 7-0 win.  Next up was perennial power Rutgers Prep.  The two teams went back and forth the entire game until Gabrielle Hueth scored with minutes to go in regulation to send the Purple Roses into the sectional final against division opponent Trinity Hall.

In the final against the tournament’s Cinderella story and 12th-seeded Trinity Hall, St. Rose knew what they were in store for.  Trinity Hall gave St. Rose one of their best games of the season back in October before losing, 2-0.  So St. Rose knew coming into the finals that they would be in for a defensive battle and momentum swings.  The game played out that exact way as the two teams went toe-to-toe early and often.  It was the junior goal scorer, Julianne Leskauskas, who would find the back of the net for the game’s only goal just eight minutes into the contest.

 “The girls worked extraordinarily hard against an extremely well-organized team, I can’t think of a more deserving group of people than these girls,” said head coach Zach Savacool. “They have maintained their focus through months of practice and games and it’s great to see all of their efforts be rewarded." 

St. Rose got little respect in the Shore Conference due to the lack of firepower in their division and the fact that they were dominating their opponents in just about every game, rather then giving the credit for all their hard work and just maybe that work and focus had a lot to do with their dominance and not the lack of divisional firepower.  At the end of the season, four teams in B Central had their best seasons to date and three made runs into the state tournament.  The growth of the St. Rose and their B Central opponents will have the rest of the Shore Conference on notice next season and for seasons to come.

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