By Matthew Rocco
Shore Regional High School added to its success in the girls’ soccer state tournament, winning its second consecutive group championship.
The Blue Devils advanced to their fifth NJSIAA Group I final in a row, and they faced a familiar rival in Glen Ridge High School. The two schools battled for the title in three of the last four seasons, with one win apiece and a shared title in 2013. This year, the Blue Devils prevailed once again for their third group win in school history, thanks in part to another clutch performance from their star freshman.
Julia Eichenbaum, who scored twice in a 3-1 win over Haddon Heights High School in the semifinals, put the Blue Devils on the board early in the championship game. The freshman forward launched a shot that deflected off a Glen Ridge defender and found the back of the net, giving Shore Regional a 1-0 lead at the 1:12 mark.
Glen Ridge came back to tie the game at the 22-minute mark, but Shore Regional responded with a two-goal rally to close the first half. Sophomore forward Frankie McDonough put the Blue Devils back in front just five minutes later. Eichenbaum recorded her second goal of the game at 35:25 to give Shore Regional a 3-1 lead at halftime.
Glen Ridge’s Lindsay Jaiyesimi brought her team within one goal when she scored at 51:29, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Blue Devils. Shore Regional played solid defense throughout the tournament, and goalie Julia Valinoti had five saves in the finals to keep Glen Ridge at bay.
For the Blue Devils, winning a second straight title is the ultimate reward for putting in hours of work on the practice field.
“As a team, we continued to play our possession-style system. It took a little time, we worked on drills, but we had the talent and they started to gel as the season went on,” head coach George Moutis said.
“There was always a lot of pressure on the girls. Making it five years in a row puts a lot of pressure on them. On the day of the game, I told the girls, ‘You’ve worked so hard and you have the ability, so don’t let negative thoughts bring you down. Just stay positive.’ That sunk in, and we played our game.”
Eichenbaum’s arrival made the Blue Devils (20-4) tough to defend. She joined two other prolific scorers up front in McDonough and sophomore Hannah Birdsall, who led the team in scoring as freshmen. Eichenbaum wrapped up the state tournament having scored twice in three different games, and she had at least one point in each of Shore Regional’s six playoff games. In just her first season, Eichenbaum had 18 goals and 12 assists to her credit.
The Blue Devils will be forced to fill a large void left by senior captains Kelly Bolsch and Devon McDonough. But with Eichenbaum, Birdsall and Frankie McDonough back in the mix, Shore Regional is already shaping up to be a force in the Shore Conference next season.
“We’re going to lose two starters who are great leaders,” Moutis said. “It’s a matter of the girls stepping up.”