Graziano sparks Mendham triumph

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountylacrosse

WASHINGTON TWP. (Morris) — A constant drizzle and slippery grass and mud field are not necessarily good conditions to gamble on a play but Mendham’s Nicole Graziano has never been afraid to take a chance.

Graziano scored six goals including a momentum sparking take-away goal to start the second half in Mendham’s 14-4 victory over rival West Morris on Tuesday.

Aly Messinger added four goals, Maggie Sinzer scored twice and Gia Padavano and freshman Becky Gohsler also added goals for the 3-0 Minutemen.

Amy Ernst had a hat trick and Megan Monaco also connected for West Morris which dropped to 0-3. The Wolfpack led early and at one point the contest was tied at 3-3 midway through the first half but the Minutemen would break free with 11 consecutive goals to beat their sister-school rivals.

Mendham’s Maggie Sinzer and West Morris’ Elyssa Lamperti battle for the ball in Wednesday’s game

Although Mendham was able to practice several times on grass leading up to the game, it took awhile for them to adjust to the playing conditions.

“Ground balls were a lot harder to get than we were used to,’’ Graziano said. “You would go for a ground ball and your stick would be stuck in the mud. The coaches always told us to get low. Overall, we came out pretty flat but we picked it up in the end. We adjusted I guess.’’

Graziano scored a pair of goals late in the half to help Mendham to a 6-3 halftime margin. The senior, who will be part of the fledgling University of Florida program next spring, gave her team a huge boost to start the second half when she picked off a clearing pass and put it into the net two minutes into the half to make it a four-goal game.

“We’ve been practicing our ride,’’ Graziano said. “(My opponent) was creeping to the middle and I sagged back a little so the goalie would think she was wide open. I sprinted in front of her and I didn’t think I was going to get it. We touched sticks then it happened to go into my stick. It was a straight path to the goal and it was just lucky that it went in.’’

Mendham’s Nicole Graziano has game-changing ability. She scored six goals on Wednesday.

The senior standout is one of those players capable of taking control of games. Physically, she has terrific speed which helps the Minutemen’s transition game, but she also has the size and physical ability that make it difficult for a defender to get the ball from her. She is also a good passer who draws defenders and her field vision can find open teammates. Like a lot of gifted players she has to learn to keep her emotions in check.

“She’s that type of a player but she has to be mentally disciplined,’’ Mendham coach Jessica Shoulberg said. “She has to have composure. She’s a fiery player. When she gets fired up sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s not so good.’’

Mendham had a four-goal edge and momentum that helped them take control of the second half. The Minutemens’ faceoff specialist senior midfielder Morgan Holleran succeeded in giving Mendham more and more possessions that they were able to capitalize on.

“The sticks were slippery so it definitely affected (the draws),’’ Holleran said. “Even if players went for the ball it would slip out of their sticks. … I tried to get it out of the circle. Nicole (Graziano) and Messy (Aly Messinger) are really good at grabbing it out of the air and I was really confident in them.

Getting the win and extending the winning streak in the process was important. Mendham fields a young team this year with just two senior starters, although many of the underclassmen saw varsity time during last year’s successful season. Graziano and Messinger are seasoned scorers but many young players are still learning their roles on the team.

Mendham’s Hayley Keith tries to maneuver past West Morris’ Erin Gutkind in first half action.

The added incentive of defeating their sister-school rivals also played a role. Even though the Mendham program has been elevated to one of the most competitive girls lacrosse programs in the state during the last decade, defeating a neighboring rival is still a thrilling experience for them.

“Our coaches either taught here, coached here or played here,’’ Holleran said. “That gets us excited because we want to win for them and for us.’’

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About mcvbb

Mark Kitchin is a boys varsity basketball writer for the Morris County New Jersey area

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