By Warren Rappleyea
Old Bridge High School’s girls’ lacrosse team has earned the top seed in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Tournament, as the Lady Knights look to take the crown for the second time in three seasons.
Coach Stephen Gajewski’s team is undefeated in conference play and is 7-3 overall in a spring that has seen several matches cancelled due to poor weather. Old Bridge’s three losses have come at the hands of powerful out-of-conference foes: undefeated Allentown High School, Hillsborough High School (12-2) and Colts Neck High School (13-2).
In GMC play the Lady Knights edged South Brunswick High School, 11-10, squeezed past North Brunswick Township High School, 12-10 and downed Monroe Township High School in a 12-9 decision. Those three teams are likely to be the other primary contenders. North Brunswick, which won the tournament in 2016 and 2014, owns a 13-3 overall mark and earned the second seed; Monroe (9-6) took the third seed; and South Brunswick (7-5) was seeded fourth.
“This has been an interesting year,” Gajewski said. “We really have a good mix of experienced players and younger girls who have come in and really played well. The more they play together the better they get.”
Most of the Lady Knights experience is on the defensive side of the field. Seniors Janelle Harden, Hannah Gofztyla and Emily Carrington patrol the back end along with talented sophomore Lexi Zimmerlink. Sophomore goalie Ariel Gold, also an ice hockey netminder, has been acrobatic between the pipes.
Abby Zimmerlink, a dynamic sophomore who alternates between midfield and attack, is the Lady Knights’ top goal scorer with 40 tallies and also has 12 assists to her credit. Lindsay Shafer, a sophomore midfielder, has contributed 19 goals and four assists.
Attackers Emily Lopes and Heather Papa have contributed 13 and 12 goals, respectively. Midfielder Julia Sandor leads Old Bridge with 15 assists and has also scored eight goals. Erin Handy, another junior, has seven goals and four assists.
A year ago, Gajewski’s team turned in a 9-10 mark. The Lady Knights reached the semifinals of the GMC Tournament, where they were eliminated by North Brunswick. Old Bridge also qualified for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association South Jersey, Group IV tournament. Seeded 16th, the locals had the unenviable task of squaring off against top-seeded Rancocas Valley Regional High School in the opening round. This year, Old Bridge has qualified for the North Jersey, Group IV section.
“Defense is really our strong suit, but the key to winning in the tournaments is ball possession,” the Lady Knights’ coach said. “No matter how good your defense is, if the other team has the ball most of the time, they will score. We’re going to focus on winning draws and valuing the ball. We have girls who can score, but we want to keep the ball, control the pace and look for high-percentage shots.”
On May 11, Old Bridge is slated to open the GMC Tournament by hosting the winner of the May 9 play-in game between eighth-seeded John P. Stevens High School (1-8) and ninth-seeded Bishop George Ahr High School (0-9).