Talented Raiders girls’ lacrosse team sets sights on another GMC crown

By Warren Rappleyea

North Brunswick Township High School’s girls’ lacrosse team will look to win its third Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) championship in four year this spring.

While the Raiders will be without the dynamic duo of Samantha Mehalick and Tatum Altman, who spent the past four years setting offensive records, plenty of talent remains.

One of the key ingredients is versatile midfielder Victoria Tucci. The Wagner University-bound Tucci has been somewhat overshadowed, but the senior is a force in her own right. Last fall, she scored 77 goals and collected 64 assists. In her three varsity seasons, Tucci has produced 177 goals and assisted on another 110 tallies.

North Brunswick coach Danielle Bussiere pointed out that, while her team is known for its scoring prowess in recent years, the team is also very solid defensively.

“We have always stressed defense and take pride in limiting other teams’ scoring, the coach said. “Victoria can score, but she’s also our best defensive player. She’s very fast, and she has the stamina to go end-to-end all game long.”

Speaking of defense, North Brunswick also returns Natalie Chapman in goal. The junior made 171 saves a year ago and was a steady presence in front of the net. Dependable junior Cassie Oake, who managed to contribute eight goals and three assists, spearheads the Raiders’ defensive corps — which also includes Angela Kassaus — which allowed just 156 goals across 24 games.

Other defenders who will play vital roles this spring are junior Rachel Kim and sophomores Renee Halas, Taysla Jiminez and Keira Welsh.

In addition to Tucci, North Brunswick’s midfield includes Rhica Austin (five goals) and sometimes Oake when the situation dictates it.

Up front, the Raiders have several players who can put the ball in the net. With several options, it will be harder for opponents to concentrate solely on Tucci.  Sophomore Hayley Greenberg hit double figures with 10 goals and added three assists. Junior forward Elena Vargas contributed nine goals and four assists, and sophomore Katie Panitch has six tallies and one assist.

“We have a much better all-around team than people may think,” the coach said. “That’s not to say we won’t miss Sam and Tatum. We certainly will, but we still have the talent to win.”

The future looks bright as North Brunswick will count on three freshmen —attackers Katherine Manley and Caroline Orokos and midfielder Julia Davies.

After falling in the final seconds of the 2015 GMC final to Old Bridge High School, North Brunswick entered last season intent on reclaiming the title. The Raiders eliminated the Lady Knights in last year’s semifinals and went on to defeat Monroe Township High School in the championship game.

Bussiere’s  squad then downed North Hunterdon High School, 12-7, in the opening round of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association North Jersey, Group IV tournament before falling to Hillsborough High School, 15-10, in the second round.

“We always want to do well in our conference, but one of our goals is to go further in the state tournament,” the Raiders’ coach said.

North Brunswick is scheduled to open the season with a non-conference match at Voorhees High School in Glen Gardner on March 29 and will then visit Voorhees’ sister school, North Hunterdon, in Annandale on March 31 before the Raiders will be the host to Old Bridge on April 1.