Resilient Eagles will take aim at second straight state soccer title

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Middletown High School South girls soccer player Keira Prince dribbles the ball past Freehold Township's Ainsley Moy during a game played on Nov. 7 in Middletown. Middletown South lost to Freehold Township in overtime by a score of 2-1.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Middletown High School South girls soccer player Meghan Carragher controls the ball during the team's game against Freehold Township on Nov. 7 in Middletown. Carragher scored her fourth goal of the season in the contest.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Middletown High School South girls soccer player Camryn Szotak dribbles the ball up the field during the team's game against Freehold Township on Nov. 7 in Middletown. Middletown South is 9-3 through its first 12 games of the season. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Middletown High School South girls soccer player Keira Prince dribbles the ball past Freehold Township's Ainsley Moy during a game played on Nov. 7 in Middletown. Middletown South lost to Freehold Township in overtime by a score of 2-1.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Middletown High School South girls soccer player Meghan Carragher controls the ball during the team's game against Freehold Township on Nov. 7 in Middletown. Carragher scored her fourth goal of the season in the contest.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Middletown High School South girls soccer player Camryn Szotak dribbles the ball up the field during the team's game against Freehold Township on Nov. 7 in Middletown. Middletown South is 9-3 through its first 12 games of the season. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

The 2020 campaign has been another banner year on the pitch for the Middletown South High School girls soccer team. The Eagles have built on their 2019 North Jersey, Section II, Group III state sectional championship with a 9-3 start heading into the final week of regular season play.

“I think we have a lot of players who play with heart and character and I think that is almost more important than the skill you have on a team when you are facing adversity,” Coach Megan Barry said.

“Who can be resilient? I feel like my girls show up with that energy every day and I think that is one of the most important characteristics they have. We are looking forward to a state title and I think we can absolutely compete for a championship,” the coach said.

Middletown South is led by seniors Katie Coyle and Keira Prince.

Coyle is having a stellar senior season in every facet of the game. She leads the team with 16 goals and has added six assists. Through 12 matches, Coyle has tied the mark of 16 goals she scored a year ago.

Coyle said her performance is exactly what she was hoping for going into the season. It was her goal to take the reins in helping the Eagles put the ball in the back of the net and continue to win.

”I was really looking forward to scoring and getting on the board for the team,” Coyle said. “I knew we had a really good group of girls, so I felt like it was going to be a successful season. There is a good connection between all the players. It really feels like last year; very positive and successful.”

Prince has three goals and two assists as she has helped to direct play in the middle of the field as the Eagles’ center midfielder.

Senior goalkeeper Jess Bucello and junior defender Meghan Carragher anchor the defense.

Bucello has 52 saves and Carragher has scored four goals, two of which came in big moments when the Eagles faced Freehold Township High School on Oct. 27.

The junior scored the game-tying goal with less than 4:00 left in regulation and then scored the game-winner in overtime to complete a 3-2 comeback victory for the Eagles over the Patriots.

Carragher notched her fourth goal of the season when Middletown South met Freehold Township again on Nov. 7 in Middletown.

With the Eagles trailing 1-0 and less than 8:00 left in regulation, Carragher crushed a free kick from 44 yards that went off goalkeeper Ava Madoff’s fingertips and into the net to tie the match at 1-1.

“I was manifesting the last game because the same exact thing happened and I kicked it as hard as I could again and it went in,” Carragher said of her goal against Freehold Township on No. 7. “I didn’t expect it to go in. It just ended up going in. It was really exciting and so surreal since I don’t score many goals.”

Juniors Sam Cataneo and Beth Rankin have each scored four goals and junior Lara Brennan has also made an impact with three goals and four assists.

“I believe very strongly that the success of your team has to do with the upperclassmen showing that leadership role,” Barry said. “All of my seniors and juniors do that. Having those upperclassmen be role models and showing the type of urgency they need to show every day makes a huge difference.”

Freshmen Jennifer Schuster and Camryn Szotak have been “difference makers and versatile players,” Barry said.

Schuster is second on the team in goals scored with five and also has six assists. Szotak has connected for two goals and has added four assists in multiple roles.

The Eagles are averaging four goals per match.

Following its first loss of the season against Manalapan on Oct. 13, Middletown South bounced back on Oct. 15 with a victory over the Braves. That victory started a stretch of five wins in six matches for the Eagles.

On Nov. 7, Middletown South had a chance to make it six of seven and win its fourth straight match after taking Freehold Township to overtime for the second time in 11 days, but the Patriots’ Cassidy Corcione scored the game-winner with :22 left in overtime.

The loss dropped Middletown South one game back of Freehold Township for the top spot in the Shore Conference A North Division.

Middletown South will play Howell twice to finish the regular season and then shift its attention to the state playoffs.

The Eagles are the No. 2 seed in the Central East Region Group C bracket and believe they are capable of winning a second straight state championship. Middletown South will face Toms River East in state action on Nov. 18.

After everything the players have gone through this season in playing during the coronavirus pandemic, Barry said winning back-to-back titles would be an outstanding achievement.

“You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so go out there and do everything you can to achieve what you want to and have fun together.

“Every day we are out here, I think everyone is grateful for it. Because of that gratitude, the (players) leave it all out there on the field,” the coach said.