MCT Girls Lacrosse Preview

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountylacrosse Mountain Lakes and Chatham started the year playing against each other. Now the Cougars and the Lakers will be able to find out how much they have improved as their seasons draw to a close with a title on the line.

The former Colonial Hills Conference rivals will face each other in the Morris County Tournament final on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Montville High School.

The finalists were determined on Thursday. Sophomore Bridget Ballard scored four goals and third-seeded Chatham took advantage of a strong start to upend second-seeded Mendham 14-10 in the first game of the MCT doubleheader. Top-seeded Mountain Lakes dominated the nightcap with a 19-5 triumph over fourth-seeded West Morris Central.

26b gl mct semiThe Chatham girls lacrosse team believes it is peaking at the right time. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

It’s been more than a month since the Lakers and Cougars clashed. On March 26, Mountain Lakes defeated Chatham 13-6. The Cougars have struggled this year but seem to be peaking at the right time. The 9-7 team is on a 4-game roll.

“It’s crazy,” Chatham junior midfielder Maggie O’Neill said. “I’m so excited. We’re ready to keep going to the end.”

“We’re a whole new team in this new season,” Chatham senior defender Natalie Washuta said. “Every practice we are getting better. Every game we are getting better. We changed up a few of our offensive plays and were ready for them on defense.”

Chatham coach Hilary Renna, a Mountain Lakes alumnus, believes that the Cougars have gotten a little better at understanding the demands of the second-year coach.

“In the beginning and toward the middle of our season we’ve been struggling to come together and struggling to make the girls see what the coaches see in them,” Renna said. “In the past few games they’ve been starting to see it and it’s happening at just the right time. They have been listening to the coaches and sticking with the game plan and trusting us more.”

41b gl mct semiChatham’s Emily Wingate maneuvers through traffic to get to the cage. (Photo byMark Kitchin)

Chatham got off to a terrific start against Mendham. The Cougars scored the first five goals of the game and didn’t allow a Minuteman score until Carlye Maita connected 11 minutes into the contest.

“Our intensity in winning the draws was the biggest factor,” Ballard said. “Winning the draws is what controls the whole game. Our middies came up with (ground balls) and we were able to translate that into our goals.”

The face-off work by Chatham’s Alex Frenzel will be important for the Cougars if they expect to contend for the title. Constantly winning the draw does wonders in helping the offense develop a rhythm. It also keeps the ball out of the opponents’ sticks.

“She is one of the best teammates you can have,” Ballard said of Frenzel. “She just builds you up inside. She has the best attitude. She’s very consistent. She’s always there when you need her.”

Ballard has become an important player in the Cougars offense in her first year on varsity.

“She’s always strong on attack,” O’Neill said. “She leads our offense. She’s really good at starting our momentum.”

18b gl mct semiWhoever wins the draw  gives her team the best chance to win the game. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Maddy Bowles had three goals and one assist and Maggie O’Neill and Morgan Sullivan each scored twice to help pad the Chatham advantage. The Cougars led 9-3 at the half but the Minutemen worked at chipping away at that lead during much of the second half. Mendham got to within 11-9 when Graziano scored on a Meri Curtin feed with 7:23 left.

However the Chatham defense stepped up when it had to. Casey Madura, Kate Burns and Washuta were among those up to the task every time the Minutemen seemed to be getting close.

“We were behind on a few cutters in the beginning,” Washuta said. “If somebody was beaten 1v1 or off a cutter we were all there for each other including our goalie Gizzy Saul. Every play on defense counts so we were ready no matter what.”

Back-to-back free position goals by Ballard and O’Neill a little over a minute later extended Chatham to a four-goal advantage that sealed the win.

Chatham will have a difficult time opening up an early lead against Mountain Lakes. The Lakers looked dominating in a 19-5 MCT semifinal triumph over West Morris which was their 17th consecutive victory.

Victoria Kalamaras had five goals and four assists and Jackie Perry scored four times. Hannah Crook and Nicole Kalamaras added two goals apiece for top-seeded Mountain Lakes (17-1).

The Lakers respect the Cougars, they have had too many spirited battles in the past. They also showed moments of sloppiness against the Wolfpack in the semifinals after opening up a commanding lead. They know such lapses have to be remedied.

83b gl mct semiMountain Lakes’ Jackie Perry is a tough match up for any team. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“Chatham is always great,” Mountain Lakes coach Jen Munday said. “They are very well coached. They have great talented kids. They are always very fundamentally sound which is something that we need to clean up a little. They are a very, very good team and we need to prepare for them.”

The defending champions look a little different from teams of the past. The senior-laden squad is a little better on the pass and doesn’t rely quite as much dodging as past teams. Victoria Kalamaras has had an exceptional season feeding the ball with more than 40 assists this year.

“She is unbelievable,” Munday said. “She sees the field so well. She is such a threat because if you only defend the pass, she drives right past you. She makes other people better. She anticipates where other people are going to be rather than just throwing it to them. She’s an outstanding feeder and finisher.”

75b gl mct semiMeredith Newfrock is one of Mountain Lakes’ many offensive contributors. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Jackie Perry is also having an outstanding season. She is considered by many to be among the best centers in the state. She exhibits good speed, great stick work and tremendous versatility. She is a very tough player to match up against one-on-one. Teams are often forced to double team which frees her Lakers teammates for open shots.

“She is one of the best athletes I have ever coached,” Munday said. “She works hard every day to be better. The two of them at practice bring up the level of play. In every game they have played, they have been outstanding.”

Expect Saturdays’ game to be a good one. Possessions off the draw and overall determination will be major factors in determining whether the Lakers repeat as champs or the Cougars find their way back on top, where they haven’t been since 2012.

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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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