By Eric Braun
WALL – The Wall Knights girls soccer team had a rough start to the 2019 season, but have started to find themselves and turned their season around just in time for the postseason.  After opening the season with a 1-3 record, the Knights currently sit at 7-4 overall and 5-1 in B North.
After capturing their NJSIAA state win two years ago, the Knights have built an impressive non-conference schedule against some of the top teams in the Shore Conference with games against perennial powers St. Rose, Freehold Township, Middletown North and Shore Regional. This preparation has Wall primed and ready come tournament time.
“This wasn’t the start to the season we wanted but we do play a tough non-conference schedule which is due to the fact that after we won states two years ago it was very hard to get teams to play us so we benefited from getting teams with above .500 records that challenge us early, and you know I am a big believer in it is how you play at the end of the season that matters,” said head coach Mike Juska about his mindset after a rough start to the season.
Juska this season has a mix of experienced veterans and eager-to-learn underclassmen, carrying nine seniors, nine juniors, four sophomores and one freshman.  While it seems like a huge bench to most, the experience and bond this group gains together will only continue to grow them individually and the program as a whole. 
The Knights are led by seniors Izabella Aravich, Caleigh Burke, Giullanna Cavazzoni, Jordan Cheche, Grace Gisoldi, Alexandra Hummel, Marissa Sciorilli and Mackenzie Tranberg.  The juniors are Kaitlyn Brown, Katie Byrne, Erin Carr, Isabel Casais, Katelyn Mish, Ava Parella, Olivia Ramiz, Mary Thorp and Jamie Valvo.  The sophomores are Hannah Grabicki, Katerine Neuffer, Carolyn Scenna and Paris Thorp and the lone freshman is Kiersten Brown. 
Wall topped Freehold Boro, 1-0, to open the season, behind scoring from Aravich on assist from Gisoldi and Cavazzoni and Cheche combining for five saves and the shutout.  From there Wall took three straight losses on the chin, with a 3-0 loss at the hands of St. Rose, a 1-0 loss to Red Bank Regional and a 4-2 loss to Freehold Township.
The Knights never waivered from the plan that was laid out in the offseason – hopes  of capturing B North, qualifying with high seeds and making deep runs in both the Shore Conference and NJSIAA tournaments.  
They opened their next four games with a 2-1 win against Matawan behind scoring from Tranberg from Gisoldi and a Gisoldi goal on assist from Cavazzoni, while Cavazzoni and Cheche combined for seven saves and the win.
Wall Township would then earn three straight shutouts starting with a 2-0 win over Middletown North with goals from Ramiz and Hummel and two assists from Gisoldi.  In a 4-0 win against Manasquan, the scoring would come from Tranberg, Mish, Gisoldi and Hummel, with assists from Parella, Gisoldi and Sciorilli with two. The third shutout came against Neptune in 3-0 win with Ramiz scoring two and Burke the other.
The Knights would drop to 5-4 with a hard-fought 2-0 loss to Shore Regional before getting back into the win column this last week with two more shutouts.  On Tuesday, Wall Township knocked off Saint John Vianney, 1-0, on scoring from Tranberg and assist from Hummel.  Then against Colts Neck on Thursday on a cold, rainy Senior Night, Wall scored late with a goal from Kiersten Brown on assist from Hummel.
“Scoring my first goal was such a relief because I have been putting in a lot of hard work and to score it on Senior Night to get the seniors the win meant a lot to send them out on top in what could be our last game on turf together,” said Kiersten Brown of her first varsity goal on such a special night.
The Wall program has always been built on a great foundation of defense and goaltending during their championship runs and this season is no different.  Juska is able to run a two-keeper system and does not skip a beat with either Cavazzoni or Cheche controlling the box.  The seniors have a great bond together and push each other in practice and warm-ups.  Defensively, Hummel, Aravich, Valvo and Scenna anchor the Knights.
 “Senior Night was kind of chaotic with a lot going on from the rain, underclassman setting up, limited warm-up and photos, but it also made us focus more at taking on a tough Colts Neck team,” said team captain Hummel. “We are starting to find our stride and defensively between myself, Carolyn, Izzy and Jamie our goals are shutout and take pride in putting the team in position to win.”
Juska knows that the girls are starting to peak at the right time and with one more win against Ocean Township on Tuesday, they can check off the box of winning the division and then quickly move their attention to the Shore Conference and NJSIAA tournaments.  
“We are starting to play full 80-minute games and limiting mistakes and better jobs at creating and finishing our opportunities,” he said.