South River High School had a really good girls’ soccer season in 2018.
South River finished 12-3-4 and reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 1 sectional tournament quarterfinals, where the Rams fell to a powerful Point Pleasant Beach High School team, 8-0.
The Rams, despite that season ending loss, were strong across the pitch, scoring more than two goals per game and recording 11 shutouts. Eight starters are back from that team for the 2019 campaign, so the Rams should be really good again–if not better.
They certainly looked better in their regular season opener on Sept. 4 at South Amboy Middle/High School, beating South Amboy, 8-0.
The Rams outshot the Governors 38-0 and won each half by a margin of 4-0. Three different South River players, seniors Lauren Schmidt, Khayla Smith and Vitoria Cassiano, scored multiple goals in the victory, with Schmidt netting four tallies. Sophomore and second-year starting goalkeeper Tiffany Fischer earned her 12th career shutout without having to make a save.
Fischer’s back line, which features three returning starters in junior sweeper Camila Lucas, junior fullback Neriah Figueroa and senior stopper Ashley Fischer, Tiffany’s older sister, prevented the Governors from getting anywhere near the goal. They also consistently transitioned the ball back up field.
Not all of the Rams’ victories will be that smooth, but the team showed how good it can be at its best.
South River’s coach, Don Minto, is especially enthusiastic about his defensive unit.
“Tiffany did very well with shutouts last year and a large part of it had to do with the girls around her,” Minto said. “We got a lot of the same girls this year, and now they are used to playing together and better at communicating.”
Minto is a little more worried about his offensive unit. The Rams did, after all, lose their leading scorer from last year, Jennie Szabo, who recorded 16 goals in 2018.
But they still have Smith, a fourth year starter, and Schmidt, a third year starter, back to spark the offense. They also have two other returning starters, sophomore Nicole Naranjo and senior Jessica Cifelli, in the midfield to help control possessions.
Minto just needs to find other scorers beyond Smith and Schmidt.
“Kayla and Lauren have scored before on varsity, but that’s pretty much it,” he said. “We’re sampling a little, trying to move girls around.”
“Hopefully just newer pieces find the ability to chip in,” he added.
The coach thinks Cassiano is a prime candidate to step up and help replace Szabo’s scoring output. It’s the senior’s fourth year in the program but her first as a varsity starter, and she is already making the most of her opportunity. Cassiano contributed as a distributor and as a shooter against South Amboy, posting an assist and those two goals.
Naranjo should also take a step forward in her second year as a starter. Minto is hoping for seven or eight goals from his sophomore midfielder, and for three or four goals each from a committee of other players.
His offensive worries are also a little exaggerated. South River scored eight goals in its season opener and a combined nine in two scrimmage victories at the end of August.
The Rams are still well rounded, even without Szabo.
“We’re hoping to win more than 10 games and more than one game in the state tournament,” Minto said.