Expectations remain high for Manalapan girls lacrosse

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By Tim Morris

Led by an outstanding midfield tandem, the Manalapan High School girls lacrosse team is looking to continue its upward trend.

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Coming off a season in which the Braves (12-6) closed the gap between themselves and the best teams in the Shore Conference A North Division (first win over seven-time champion Freehold Township High School), head coach Kerry Eisman expects more of the same in 2016.

“Our expectations remain the same, as always,” Eisman said. “To compete for A North and to be competitive in every game that we play.”

The Braves certainly did that last spring and despite some youth (seven sophomores), they seem poised to take the next step and challenge defending champion Wall High School, perennial winner Freehold Township and Howell High School for the top spot in the division.

“We expect to have great chemistry as a team and always play for each other,” Eisman said. “We have a very young and inexperienced team with some terrific seniors who have had terrific careers.”

Those seniors include the Braves’ irrepressible midfielders, Carly Niro and Erin Rotondo. They have gotten off to remarkable starts. Rotondo ranks among the state leaders in goals scored (19) and has surpassed 100 for her career.

Niro entered the season with 109 career tallies and has 16 on the season.

It’s not the goal-scoring that is impressive about the midfielders, but it is instead their unselfish play. Eisman noted that they enjoy assisting on a score more than scoring. Rotondo had 33 assists in 2015.

“[Niro and Rotondo] have amazing chemistry,” Eisman said. “They are great role models for all the players on the team. They go through every drill 100 miles an hour.”

While the team has youth, Manalapan does have a lot of experience back from 2015, led by attackers Amanda DeMatteo, Emily Chung and Emil Gresco, who are seniors. Sophomore Nina Rivera gained valuable playing time last season.

At midfield alongside Niro and Rotondo, Bri Waring, Marissa Gross and Jackie Gotthold are all back. Like the other returnees, they are experienced seniors. Junior Kat DeLuca adds depth at the position.

The defensive unit is led by senior Jenna Goldberg. Marissa Presby and Ciara DeAlmeida, who are juniors, complete group of returnees.

Sophomore Joanna Gonzalez has won the starting job at goalie.

Manalapan’s newcomers include juniors Julia Adamkiewicz (defense), Madison Baez (defense), Allison Barnett (attack), Nicolette Conforth (attack), Gina DeLorenzo (attack) and Ariel Kamen (midfield); sophomores Taylor Acevedo (defense), Grace DiPalermo (defense), Erin Fox (midfield) and Allison Kovacs (goalie); and freshman Angela Khoudary (midfield).

Manalapan scored signature victories last year, beating Freehold Township twice and handing champion Wall its lone division loss.

“Last year, we made great strides,” Eisman said. “We have a lot of work to do, though, to match those victories this year.”

A key to matching those wins and perhaps going beyond is how quickly the young newcomers can adjust to playing varsity level soccer and add support to the veterans.

“I’m really thinking by mid-season they will be veterans,” Eisman said. “They have great older girls to learn from.”

That would make a team led by one of the best midfield combos in the division a very tough out come postseason tournament time.

The Braves have started the season 2-1, with their only loss to coming against defending A North champion Wall, 17-12. They play Howell at home April 14 and at Freehold Township April 18 in matches that will be important to the Braves if they are to be contenders for the division title going into the second half of the season.

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