The girls’ soccer teams at Old Bridge High School and Monroe Township High School are hopeful that a physical battle between the two squads prepared them for the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Tournament.
Monroe earned a 1-0 victory over the Knights on Oct. 12 in Old Bridge.
“We didn’t give up,” Old Bridge head coach Robert Lozzi said. “We tried. These are games where the margin of error is very small. You make a mistake and get in a hole, and you try to come back. It’s everything from the focus. All of a sudden, you feel like the game is getting away from you a little bit, so you start pressing a little bit, and you get the result that we got today. It’s not the outcome we want before the tournament, but these girls are a pretty resilient group, so we’re hoping they just bounce back from it.”
Lozzi wanted to see better passes from his team before the GMC Tournament started on Oct. 16.
“[Regarding] our movement off the ball, we still have to find each other,” Lozzi said. “We’re just not connecting well. We’re just in a little bit of a funk right now, but if we can get it together before the tournament, I still believe in this team.”
Despite the setback, Lozzi still believes he has a championship contender.
“We’re still going into the tournament with the expectation to win it,” Lozzi said. “Monroe’s a nice team. I think right now, I think we’re in a little bit of a funk. I think we can beat anybody in the tournament. I expect East Brunswick [High School] to get the No. 1 seed, and we beat East Brunswick. So I’m confident that we can win it all. We’ll see.”
East Brunswick did receive the top seed in the GMC Tournament, while Old Bridge was right behind the Bears as the second-seeded team in the bracket. The Knights, who fell to 11-3 on the season with the loss to Monroe, receive byes in the play-in and preliminary rounds of the GMC Tournament. They are expected to play their first game of the tournament on Oct. 20 against either 15th-seeded Middlesex High School or 18th-seeded North Brunswick Township High School.
Monroe is seeded fourth and also starts its tournament schedule in the first round on Oct. 20. The Falcons will face either 13th-seeded South Brunswick High School or 20th-seeded South Plainfield High School.
Old Bridge senior center midfielder Julia Sandor liked the effort the team gave against Monroe despite the loss.
“I think we played intense,” Sandor said. “I think we left it all on the field.”
Sandor credited the Monroe defense for the team’s offensive struggles.
“They played pretty tight on us,” Sandor said. “It was kind of hard to get balls through and everything, but I still think we strung our way through there. We just were unlucky.”
Sandor also believes that the team should make in far in the GMC Tourament.
“I think we can make it to the GMC finals,” Sandor said. “I think we can get there if we make it through all the rounds and handle every team the way we should.”
Monroe head coach Peter Ruckdeschel was happy that his team hustled and fought for its goal to get the victory against Old Bridge. The Falcons scored late in the first half when junior forward Hannah Van Dusen scored on a dropped ball by Old Bridge goalie Cindy Lee-Sam. Lee-Sam had only given up seven goals all season and has eight shutouts this year.
“To be honest, I thought both teams came out flat,” Ruckdeschel said. “I don’t know what the circumstances were, but we usually [play hard] right out of the gate for both of us. Fortunately for us, we followed through well. The keeper for them made an unfortunate mistake, and we capitalized on it. I told them that it doesn’t have to be pretty. It can be an ugly goal, as long as it hits the back of the net. It was beautiful to see our hunger today.”
Ruckdeschel knows that his team, which is 9-6, will need to finish better if it wants to go far in the GMC Tournament.
“Our biggest thing is finishing,” Ruckdeschel said. “A goal like that isn’t really a testament of what we can do. We had our chances, but everything that’s on net is not at its strongest. I really want to see the girls finish a little bit better. But we have great chemistry. I got a lot of great leadership from our captains, our leaders and our seniors. And we’re not done. Our season is not done.”
Ruckdeschel has set expectations high for his team in the GMC Tournament.
“I expect to win,” Ruckdeschel said. “I’m going to be point blank about that. Our girls are great. We have excellent talent. We just need to make sure that we believe. We need to believe in ourselves and in each other. When we do that, we can do very well.”
Van Dusen credits her coach’s scouting report for her goal against Old Bridge.
“My coach told me that goalies tend to wobble the ball when they have it,” Van Dusen said. “So whenever somebody shot it, I just wanted to follow through, and I got lucky that time.”
Van Dusen hopes the Falcons fly high in both the GMC and state tournaments.
“We’re going to go to the two tournaments coming up,” Van Dusen said. “Hopefully, we come out on top in both of them.”
Old Bridge had two more regular-season games scheduled before opening GMC Tournament play. The Knights beat Spotswood High School, 3-0, at home on Oct 13 and hosted Sayreville War Memorial High School on Oct. 16.
Monroe lost to Marlboro High School, 2-1, on the road on Oct. 14. The Falcons returned home to play Lawrenceville School on Oct. 16.