The women’s soccer team won two big games last week on the path to its third consecutive New Jersey Athletic Conference championship. On Nov. 1, the team outplayed Montclair State for a 1-0 victory in the semifinals, and on Friday night it took home the title with another close 1-0 win against Richard Stockton College.
Despite controlling the possession of the ball and the pace of the game in the first half against Montclair, the College had few scoring opportunities and no goals to show for it. Montclair seemed hesitant to press on offense, pushing only two or three players forward and keeping its numbers heavy on defense. The Lions controlled possession, but the ball was pressured by multiple Montclair defenders at all times.
The game-clinching goal came on a free kick from about 40 yards out. Senior defender Nikki Migliori lined up and lofted a ball into the box, looking for a head to put the ball in the net. Instead of getting redirected, the ball skipped at the six-yard box, past the stunned Montclair goalkeeper.
“I thought, ‘I can strike a ball from here and if I put it on net, it can go in or it will be in the vicinity for my teammates to put the ball in,’” Migliori said. “When it went in, I was ecstatic.”
On the other side of the bracket, Stockton upset top-seeded Rowan University 4-3, setting the matchup for the NJAC finals on Friday night.
Fortunate to be playing at home, the Lions continued to play their brand of soccer against the Ospreys. They dictated the pace, out-shooting the opposition at a lopsided clip of 29 shots to two. Despite all of the shots, the Lions found the back of the net only once. Leading scorer Brittany McGinley put home a rebound off of a free kick from Nikki Migliori in the 21st minute.
“We need to finish our chances,” Migliori said of the Lions’ scoring struggles. “Opportunities will come less and less as the tournament goes on, and we need to finish those few chances we get.”
Freshman goalkeeper Cristina Gacos continued her stellar season by posting clean sheets in both contests, giving her nine on the year.
Friday, Nov. 4, was a huge night for the women’s soccer program. They clinched their third NJAC championship in as many years (and 15th in the last 18 years), and Head Coach Joe Russo achieved the huge milestone of 400 victories as a coach. In his 22-year career, Russo has compiled an outstanding record of 400-48-28 with three national titles.
“It made winning the NJAC that much more special,” Gacos said. “Not only were we playing for the championship, but playing for our coach.”
By winning the NJAC, the Lions have clinched a spot in the NCAA Division III Tournament and will face Roger Williams University in the first round on Saturday, Nov. 12 in Middlebury, VA .