Unhappy Mendham advances in MCT

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountylacrosse

MENDHAM – The Mendham girls lacrosse team huddled in the corner of their turf field as a youth lacrosse team practiced in the same end — not daring to venture towards them.

It was more than 30 minutes after Mendham defeated Kinnelon 19-9 in a Morris County Tournament quarterfinal contest but all was not right with the Minutemen. The way they won was fine for a team just wanting to advance to the next round, but not good for a team with higher ambitions and loftier goals.

Nicole Graziano scored seven goals and Aly Messinger added four goals for Mendham (10-1). The top-seeded team will play sister-school rival West Morris, a 16-5 winner over Morris Knolls on Saturday. Mountain Lakes and Chathamalso won their quarterfinal round MCT contests on Saturday.

Ninth-seeded Kinnelon dropped to 5-3. Heidi Annaheim scored six goals and Hailey Femblaux added a pair of goals for the Colts.

 It was a bittersweet win for the Minutemen. Mendham sealed the game early by scoring the first six times it touched the ball and building an 11-0 halftime lead. In the second half, the team substituted liberally and tried to engage in time-consuming possessions, but mistakes were made. The game got sloppy and Kinnelon, which has a winning record and some skillful players like Annaheim and Alyssa Ortega on the squad, started relaxing and playing with much more confidence.

Mendham’s Morgan Holleran escapes two Kinnelon defenders in the first half of Saturday’s game.

  “We came out with a lot of fire and its hard when you are up by so much to keep that drive going,’’ Mendham’s Messinger said. “The second half it just fizzled.’’

 Although it was a Minuteman win, the uneven performance earned the ire of Mendham coach Jessica Shoulberg, who put some starters back in late in the second half. After the contest, she gave her team a long talk and then left it for the captains before the taciturn group finally broke up for the day.

 “I think we lost our momentum through the little things,’’ Mendham center Morgan Holleran said. “We started not winning every draw — not picking up every ground ball. It began to spark Kinnelon. That’s how we lost it. When you lose it, it’s hard to get it back.’’

Although Mendham had a safe lead throughout, these games sometimes get tricky. It’s not good sportsmanship for Mendham, which is unbeaten against New Jersey opponents and is clearly one of the state’s elite teams, to pile on the goals against weaker teams. However, the Minutemen do want to gain as much benefit as they can by working on their execution and giving their reserves opportunities to improve their play. It’s just that some of the younger or less experienced players don’t always perform well in those situations. Holleran understands the troubles of some of her teammates.

 “My sophomore year I would come in as a sub,’’ Holleran said. “It’s not comfortable. You are just nervous and you don’t want to mess up. You want to get more playing time. You know you are in there for a reason. You don’t want to make any mistakes.’’

Mendham’s Gia Padavano looks for an opening against Kinnelon defender Nicole Belanger.

Of course, in trying hard not to make mistakes some girls make other mistakes and then compound it by dwelling on them. The Mendham players are also completely aware that opponents are prepared to play their best against the Minutemen no matter who is on the field. With nothing to lose underdogs can play loose, while a favored team can tense up. At times those circumstances tend to snowball and can eventually put even a great team in jeopardy.

“It wasn’t just some of the people off the bench that killed the momentum,’’ Graziano said. “The first 10 minutes of the game we were really good. That was how we normally play. Then we started not getting ground balls. In the second half, once they got it going, everyone got mad because we didn’t know it was going to happen. (Kinnelon) got pumped up and got on a roll. They have a few good girls. They kept scoring and nine goals is a lot.’’

In a way, the uneven victory is a good reminder for the Minutemen on how fickle momentum can be and how important fundamental elements like winning ground balls and communicating on defense are to winning.  This week is a busy one on their schedule with West Essex, Kent Place, West Morris in the MCT and then Chatham in a regular season game. Mendham has to be ready.

“It’s going to help us get fired up more and everyone is going to have to have the confidence and prove everyone wrong,’’ Messinger said. “In the next couple weeks, we just want to go out there and destroy teams.’’

 Games of note:

West Morris 16, Morris Knolls 5 – Amy Ernst had five goals and two assists and Michaela Domoratzky and Emily Delaney each fired hat tricks for the fourth-seeded Wolfpack.

Mountain Lakes 15, Madison 5 – Ingrid Hermanson scored five goals for the Lakers.MountainLakestook control by building a 9-2 halftime edge.

Chatham 17, Morristown 6 – Jaclyn Leto scored five goals to help the third-seeded Cougars trip up the 11th-seeded Colonials.

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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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