Messinger delivers in Mendham’s MCT Title Triumph

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountylacrosse

ROXBURY – It’s not a stretch to say that Mendham’s Aly Messinger not only brought the Minutemen to the Morris County Tournament final – she took them home as well.

Messinger, a junior midfielder, scored seven goals to lift Mendham to a 15-11 victory over Chatham in the title game on Wednesday.

Nicole Graziano and Gia Padavino fired hat tricks and Morgan Holleran earned honors on the draw and on defense to help Mendham capture its fifth MCT title in the history of the program and its second in the last three years.

Jaclyn Leto and Kat McCutcheon fired hat tricks for the Cougars, which were attempting to earn a third title, all of them against Mendham. The third-seeded Cougars can start planning their revenge right now. They meet the Minutemen on Friday in a regular-season contest.

Aly Messinger, Mariah Salerno, Gia Padavino and Morgan Holleran gather after another Mendham score in Wednesday’s MCT final.

“We’ve been to this every year,’’ Graziano said. “Our freshman year was against Chatham, our junior year was Chatham. This year was Chatham. Just to beat them in the county finals was really good. We’ve been thinking about this game all week.’’

“It feels great,’’ Messinger added. “Everyone is so excited. Especially since losing last year, we were just so pumped up for this game.’’

When the bus taking the Mendham team to the game at Roxbury High School got lost, they used Messinger’s GPS (Global Positioning System) in her cell phone to find the field, thereby saving the Minutemen before the contest even started.

“I did,’’ Messinger said. “We took the backroads and we got lost. We were ready for the game and we had to get here.’’

The Mendham junior, who is pledged to attend the University of North Carolina after her high school days are completed, has terrific quickness, an accurate shot and an unlimited amount of stamina. She was isolated one-on-one much of the game and had no qualms about working the pressuring Chatham defenders and making her way to the net.

“I wanted to take full advantage of it,’’ Messinger said. “Anything I could do to help my team with this game. I took advantage of the opportunities I had and made it happen.’’

“She was tremendous,’’ Mendham coach Jessica Shoulberg added. “She’s good. She’s quick. She knows the game. She knows how to read players.’’

Aly Messinger gave Chatham defenders grief all night. She scored seven goals in Mendham’s win.

Messinger believed that keeping calm was the difference between this year’s victory and past MCT defeats.

“We kept our composure a lot more,’’ Messinger said. “We’ve learned from other games that keeping composed is key and that’s what we did. It really helped us.’’

Defensively, Mendham concentrated on limiting Chatham’s standout scorer Leto. Holleran was the choice to stay with her although she had some help defense at times.

“All week we focused on Chatham– every single thing they did, we broke it down,’’ Holleran said. “We wanted to take away her strong hand and having a slide came to help me out.’’

The Mendham players and staff are familiar with and have great respect for Leto who also plays lacrosse for STEPS elite teams during the summer.

“We just wanted to play man defense and put Morgan on her,’’ Shoulberg said. “Morgan is disciplined and she has great footwork. She doesn’t swing. She’s not overanxious. She doesn’t foul a lot. ’’

Gia Padavano tries to get a ball past Chatham goalie Hannah Reader in Wednesday’s MCT final.

The contest was an offensive shootout in the beginning. The teams scored six goals between them in the first 10 minutes. Chatham held leads of 3-1 and 4-2 but Mendham settled down and went on a 5-goal run. Three of the goals came from Messinger and two from Padavino.

One reason for the run was Mendham’s ability to win draws and gain possessions. Mendham centers Holleran and Graziano were instructed in what in-game adjustments would be necessary and what changes they would need to make both on the pull and off-ball.

“Our coaching staff puts the most emphasis on draw control,’’ Holleran said. “We practice it every day. They know we have to work on boxing out, getting the first step, getting our sticks out front, getting on stick side. That’s where the game starts and that’s where every possession comes from. Chatham is a very talented team and if they had possession all the time it would have made it so much harder to win.’’

Two of the goals were helped from a pair of yellow cards that were issued to Chatham players. Overall, Chatham was issued six yellow cards to just one for Mendham.

The Cougars were also still dealing with the loss of senior defender Lindsey Ford who missed the last two games because of a broken jaw. The Cougars interchanged two sophomores in her place and even if a physical change wasn’t noticeable, a loss of field leadership and experience might have been.

“She’s an excellent player,’’ Messinger said. “If they had her it might have been a little bit of a different game but overall I think we would have gotten it done.’’

Messinger connected with 10:14 left in the first half to make it a 7-4 game. The teams alternated goals for the rest of the half. A free position score by Padavino, a sophomore, with 1:47 left in the half spotted Mendham a 9-6 halftime margin.

Chatham took an early lead with the help of Jaclyn Leto (center). She scored two goals in the first nine minutes.

The Minutemen built on their advantage in the second half. Consecutive goals by Holleran, Paige Russell and Messinger, her seventh with 13:07 left made it a 14-8 contest.

“We had a lead for such a big part of the game,’’ Graziano said. “Our momentum just kept rising. I feel like keeping in front was a very big part of it.’’

Chatham tried to rally late but four yellow cards in the last 10 minutes forced them to play as many as three players down in one stretch which made a comeback difficult.

Several players including seniors like Holleran and Graziano cried tears of joy afterwards. They hadn’t won an MCT title game since 2009 when Mendham defeated MountainLakesin a contest played at Drew University in Madison.

“Everyone just wanted it,’’ Messinger said. “In our past games we had individuals, this year underclassmen stepped it up. We were all over the field. Everyone played their hearts out and did what they had to do.’’

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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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