Group titles on the line for Mendham, Chatham

By Mark Kitchin


Sometime last week Mendham girls lacrosse coach Jessica Shoulberg gave her players a tour of the Mendham gym. Of course, the girls are familiar with their own gym. They are in it practically every day and always admire the multitude of red and white banners that seem to cover every square inch of wall space.

There’s no shortage of banners honoring the exploits of the girls lacrosse team either, but this tour had nothing to do with previous successes.

“Coach took us into the gym and showed us all our banners and how in almost every single one where we made it far in the tournament we would come up against Moorestown,’’ Mendham defender Carly Horan said. “The first time they blew us out. The second time we got closer. Since then we haven’t beaten them and last year we were that close and I think that gives us the confidence that we can get there again. We know we are good and it just comes down to mental toughness.’’

The Minutemen will find out if they have that inner fortitude that is necessary for beating the best. Mendham faces Moorestown at 3 p.m. at Robbinsville High School on Wednesday to determine the Group III title. Their game will be followed by the Group II tilt which pits Chatham and Rumson. It will start at approximately 5 p.m.

Mendham has had challenges to its fortitude this year and passed many of them. The latest came 48 hours after beating Chatham to win the Morris County Tournament title. They were without a few of their players, including standout scorer Nicole Graziano and they suffered one of their worst defeats in years, a 14-3 drubbing by the team they just vanquished. If there was a lesson on how fleeting fame and success could be, there it was.

“We went into rehab that weekend,’’ Horan said. “It was devastating. To be honest I had no idea what happened that day. We just had a really bad day. It resonated with me. We told ourselves that we’re getting better from here on out. After that we went hard, we went really hard that weekend and all the next week and we knew coach wasn’t giving up on us.

“It was actually a good thing for us because it taught us a lesson. Our heads were big. We just won a county championship.’’

With smaller heads and quicker feet they stormed through their section and beat sister school West Morris for the third time this year to capture the North title. Mendham was robbed of the opportunity to play Moorestown in state tournament action last year becauseShawneeupset them. This year the Quakers turned the tables on their southern rivals and are no doubt determined to make a statement in their rebound year.

Moorestown is never an easy team to play. Immaculately coached, they are always well prepared both physically and mentally. They fight fiercely on the draw and play defense all over the field. Stephanie Toy, Nikki Shapiro, Nikki McMonagle and Haleigh Dalmass are among their top scorers. Erin McAfee is a fiend on ground balls and goalkeeper Bridget Bianco stops nearly everything she sees.

Aly Messinger (5). Mariah Salerno (8), Gia Padavano (4) and Morgan Holleran (9) must be on their games if Mendham is to beat Moorestown.

Mendham has two outstanding players. Nicole Graziano is an intimidating force on the field. She works hard for ground balls and once she has it, it is tough to get it away from her. She has terrific stamina and is a fierce leader. Her teammate Ally Messinger is lightning quick. She makes great cuts and nimbly finds ways to get quality shots around the cage. Both players are very unselfish so Gia Padavano, Maggie Sinzer, Morgan Holleran and many others have scoring opportunities. Mendham is also fierce on the draw and not afraid to push the ball in transition.

Defenders like Horan have gradually improved over the course of the season an should be ready to step up. Goalkeeper Abby Witczak has been very good in state play and she will need that confidence to keep up with Bianco.

Can Mendham do it? With the leadership of two very good players, their teammates are capable of stepping up their games. Moorestownhas hogged the Tournament of Champions title for many years until recently, other teams in the state like Mendham are anxious to get a turn.

“This is Mendham history,’’ Padavano said. “We want to be the first team to beat Moorestown. It’s all on the line at this point. We’re all excited and pumped. As big a win as the Morris County championship was, Moorestown is double that.’’

Chatham vs. Rumson-Fair Haven

Both Chatham and Rumson-Fair Haven would like a piece of that state title, too. On paper these two teams look as if they should combine for an offensive extravaganza. What happens in most cases is that a little defense usually slips in as well.

Rumson, which lost to Chatham 17-5 in last year’s group final, has plenty of girls that can score. Chrissy Lushefski, Charlotte Brodski, Claire Scarrone, Kelsey Cuje all have 50 points are more. Maddie Mullen is the goalkeeper for the team which no doubt has long memories of last year’s drubbing.

Cougars like Mary Kate O’Neill (9), Kallan Murray and Kat McCutcheon (37) may have to be ready for an explosive offensive day.

Chatham has been rolling since it caught Mendham in that shocking regular season game two days after the Morris County Tournament final. Jaclyn Leto is fun to watch. Not only is she a consummate scorer but also a fine stick checker who often makes her own luck in making plays, gathering loose balls and going relentlessly to the cage.

Chatham has a lot of capable scorers, too. Liz Hyde, Mary Kate O’Neill, Kelsey Perselay, Kate Murphy, Kallan Murray, Lauren Maiorano. The defense has been making strides, too. Brittany Marriott, Kat McCutcheon and goalkeeper Hannah Reader are among the girls that steady the back.Chatham pounded Summi tto advance to the title game and the Cougars are certainly capable of making a long run to the state final like it did a few years ago.


About mcvbb

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

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