Red Bank Catholic Hoping Last Year’s Post-Season Run Will Pay Dividends This Year

RED BANK – Last season Red Bank Catholic came out of nowhere to win a sectional title and capture its fifth state championship in program history and first since 2010 when they shared the Non-Public A title with Immaculate Heart Academy.

“Last year we got off to a really slow start. We had a lot of injuries to key players who we not available,” said Red Bank Catholic head coach Frank Lawrence. “The lineup was changing every single game and although we had some good seniors, after that it was mostly sophomores and freshmen. So we were young and it was a struggle in the beginning to kind of get some consistency in the way we played. But in the end we came together and started playing really well and made a great run in the states.”

Entering the South, Non-Public A sectional tournament, the Caseys were a pedestrian 10-10-1 and stumbled into the playoffs going 0-3 in the final three games of the regular season.

“We lost to Freehold Township, who is one of the best teams in the state,” said Lawrence, explaining those three losses. “So, that’s nothing to really hang your head about. We then had two games that were just fillers between the Shore Conference Tournament and states, and to be honest it’s hard for a lot of those kids to get up for those games. They almost play them like scrimmages and we didn’t play well in those games. But I was kind of dismissive of it and I told them ‘forget about everything that’s happened up to that moment, it’s a whole new season, let’s take it that way.’ And from that moment on our confidence grew and we went out and played really well against higher seeded teams.”

With most of those same girls now seasoned veterans entering this season, the Caseys again staggered out of the gate dropping two of their first three games. But since then they have gone 7-1-1, including a loss to Wall – ranked fourth in the state – and are currently ranked ninth in the Shore Conference.

Junior forward Juliana Rafaniello has been the catalyst leading the team in scoring with 12 goals along with three assists. In the Caseys, 2-2 double-overtime draw with eighth-ranked Middletown South last Wednesday, Rafaniello almost single handedly brought the Caseys back from a 2-0 halftime deficit. After scoring twice in the second half to even the score at 2-2, she was repeatedly denied the game winner in overtime by South goalie Gabby Cook – who has developed into one, if not the best, goalies in the Shore Conference.

“We needed some scoring this season so I moved Juliana up top,” Lawrence said of his attacker. “She has the ability to dribble through three or four kids and accelerate in a way that’s hard to understand. She doesn’t look fast but with the ball on her foot she’s a magician and knows how to put the ball in the net once she gets past you.”

The Caseys have allowed just five goals in their last six games with a defense and goalie that have been basically learning on the fly.

Last season’s starting goalie, Anthi Panayides, broke her hand in preseason and has been out all year so the Caseys needed to turn to sophomore Johnna Graham in goal.

“Johnna has had to grow into the game,” Lawrence said of his young goalie. “She’s now starting to become more confident there and it took a while. You need a comfort level and confidence level to perform at your best and Johnna is just starting to get there.”

The back line is made up of sophomores Danielle Borrino, Anna Cleary and Abigail George and senior Brianna Malgieri and according to Lawrence, they’ve done a good job of limiting opportunities along with his midfielders.

“Danielle plays in the center of the back three,” said Lawrence. “She is really the kid who makes things happen. Anna is the fastest kid in the back so if we need to match up speed wise, she’s the one who does that. The other position is pretty much being split between Abigail, who’s a transfer from St. Rose and Brianna, who didn’t play last year so this is her first year of varsity play and she’s really done a good job for us. She’s a steady, solid kid who’s very dependable.”

Sophomore Paige Theobald and junior Caroline O’Connor are the holding midfielders with Madison Holloway coming in to spell them. Senior Jackie Rieger is the attacking midfielder with three juniors, Chloe Battista, Cassandra Pavlick and Ave Giamanco, splitting time on the outside as midfielders.

“Jackie is a four-year starter for us,” Lawrence said. “She’s the only returning senior on the team and rarely comes off the field. She can distribute and score and has done a great job for us this year.”

Joining Rafaniello up top is sophomore attacker Sofia Giamanco, who has recorded five goals and added four assists thus far this season.

“Sofia plays with a lot of energy and will press hard and try to win the ball,” Lawrence said of his attacker. “She has a great shot and just plays with a huge amount of energy and they make a great pair when they’re out there together.”

With the post season on the horizon Lawrence like’s that almost his entire team has already experienced the pressures that go along with playoff soccer and likes his team’s chances moving forward.

“All the kids with the exception of Brianna have experience playing in a state tournament championship game. They all saw how in that game we got down a goal three different times and came back. I think they understand that we can do those kind of things and understand what it takes to win in those circumstances. So, although they’re only juniors and sophomores they’ve been through it and are experienced. I just think we need to be more consistent and play 80 minutes of great soccer to get to where we want to get.”