By Warren Rappleyea
Everything came together at the right time for Red Bank Catholic (RBC) High School’s girls’ soccer team, as the Caseys ended their season as NJSIAA Non-Public A co-champions.
Coach Frank Lawrence’s team battled through an injury- and illness-riddled campaign to earn its stripes and end up at 15-10-1. Only two players — outside midfielder Marissa Rafaniello and sophomore fullback Danielle Borrino, who battled through a broken wrist — played in all 26 games. At one point, the Caseys were 4-6, and the team entered the state tournament on the heels of a four-game losing streak that saw RBC outscored, 10-0.
“There were a few times when we didn’t have enough girls at practice to do the drills I wanted to do,” Lawrence said. “Toward the end of the season, we got just about everyone back. Still, you have to give the girls credit. They persevered and kept going.”
That was clearly evident in the Caseys’ 3-3 tie with Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child in the Non-Public A championship game at Kean University Nov. 13. Three times, RBC fell behind and three times Lawrence’s team rebounded with an equalizer.
Striker Sophie Demurjian, who missed nearly six weeks with an injury, got the first tally, popping the goal over the goalkeeper after outracing a defender to catch up to a Jyllissa Harris pass. After Oak Knoll went ahead in the second half, Rafaniello answered almost immediately with her first goal of the season.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” Lawrence said. “I’m not sure how she even got that far up the field, but she was in the right place for us at the right time.”
RBC responded again just two minutes after Oak Knoll’s third goal. Julianna Rafaniello deftly one-touched a corner kick just inside the far post to level things again.
“Oak Knoll came out strong and we really struggled for the first 15 minutes, but it was a fairly even game after that and we did have the better of the play at times,” Lawrence said. “It was physical and both teams had chances. Even though it ended tied, I’d say it was a fair result.”
The Caseys’ run began Nov. 1 with a dominating 8-1 win over Camden Catholic High School in the opening round of South Jersey, Non-Public A play. Harris and Sophie Giamanco scored twice apiece, while Julianna Rafaniello, Caroline O’Connor, Brianna Urbanski and Jackie Rieger also scored. RBC downed the Fighting Irish in the first round for the third successive year.
With the win, Lawrence’s sixth-seeded team traveled to Edison Nov. 4 to meet third-seeded Bishop George Ahr High School. Harris scored twice and Rieger added a goal in a dominating 3-0 victory.
“Beating the No. 3 seed on the road really opened the girls’ eyes and boosted their confidence,” the coach said. “They started to think they could win the championship.”
As if scripted, RBC fell behind in its Nov. 8 semifinals match at second-seeded Mount St. Mary High School. Julianna Rafaniello’s second-half marker sent the game in overtime. The Caseys were awarded a penalty kick after Mount St. Mary was called for a hand ball in the box. Harris stepped up to the dot and cashed in to send her team to the finals against fifth-seeded Notre Dame High School Nov. 10 in the South Jersey, Non-Public A title match.
RBC was outstanding throughout. Harris scored twice, as Chloe Battista and Diana Graziano picked up assists to power the Caseys to a 2-0 triumph over the defending champions. Anthi Panayides kept a clean sheet in goal, turning aside eight shots.
In more good news for the Caseys, most of the team will be back next year. Lawrence will have to find replacements for Marissa Rafaniello, Demurjian, Graziano, midfielder Daniella Caputo and fullback Emily Holtz.
“We had good senior leadership,” Lawrence said. “That’s one of the main reasons we came back. The seniors never got down, and they wouldn’t let the rest of the team get down either.”