Mendham girls saved the best for last

By Mark Kitchin

Morriscountylacrosse

WEST LONG BRANCH — In the end there were tears of sadness mixed with feelings of pride. There were also plenty of hugs for a coach that showed her team what could happen if they believed in themselves.

Mendham nearly pulled off an upset in its 6-5 loss to Moorestown in the Group III state tournament final held at Monmouth University’s Kessler Field.

Becky Gohsler and Christine Graziano scored two goals apiece and Christine Long added a goal for Mendham (13-7). The Minutemen played terrific defense and received a fine performance by junior goalie Julianna Durso had eight saves.

Moorestown (24-0) prevailed to earn its 21st state title and added another notch in their three-year win streak that stands at 75 games but they were seriously tested throughout the contest by a focused and determined Mendham team.

42 gl st moormend mlokMendham’s Becky Gohsler shows her excitement after a Christine Graziano goal during first-half action. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“We came out here knowing that we could win,” Mendham coach Lauren Yee said. “That was the difference. We fully believed that we hit our stride and we knew that we were capable of taking this. We were relaxed, we were composed and we were confident.”

Mendham embraced its underdog role and was eager to succeed.

“We came into this knowing that we could beat them, knowing that we could give them a game,” Gohsler said. “They might have looked past us because of our records and all the seniors we lost from last year. We had no fears going into this. We had nothing to lose. We wanted an upset so badly.”

The Minutemen had a terrific game plan going into the contest. Mendham was focused on winning draws and being patient with the ball while looking for offensive opportunities. Against a team that averages 16 goals a game, they wanted to keep the ball out of the Quakers’ sticks.

32 gl st moormend mlokMendham’s Kira Lopes outruns the Moorestown defense to bring the ball up field. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“We wanted to stay calm for the whole game and keep our defense tight,” Durso said. “Every day our coach says our defense is a rock. That’s how we kept it today. We moved our feet and we kept our keys to ourselves.”

Durso made a couple of early saves that helped encourage the Minutemen effort on defense.

“She did a standout job,” Gohsler said. “I think it was probably one of the best games I had seen her play. She always gets nervous in the beginning of games but all her nerves went away. She really saved it for us.”

Mendham had played Moorestown in the Group III title game in past seasons including last year’s 18-11 loss. Composure and focus were what first year varsity coach and former assistant Yee emphasized to the Minutemen this season.

90 gl st moormend mlokCarlye Maita (3) gives a shout to teammate Becky Gohsler (6) after her first-half goal. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

When one of the Mendham players got an early yellow card, Yee spent a minute talking to the visibly frustrated athlete as she served her penalty, calmly settling her down and keeping her focused. Another time when it looked like her defensive players might be losing a little concentration, she told her offensive players on the field to yell and encourage the defense to move their feet, which got the whole team involved.

The Minutemen were also relentless in the pursuit of ground balls. Several times Mendham players lost the ball initially, but rather than scramble back on defense they didn’t give up on the play and fought to get the ball back or disrupted Moorestown’s attempt to move the ball in transition.

“That just shows how much hustle and heart we had today,” Gohsler said. “Once there was a turnover we didn’t get down and hang our heads, we wanted to get that ball back as soon as possible and get another chance on offense. We hustled after every ground ball we could possibly get.”

Mendham also scored some early goals and got into the flow of the contest from the beginning.

After an early Quakers score, Mendham responded with two goals in a row. Graziano, who also worked hard on the draws, connected on a free position score at 13:52. Ten seconds later, Mendham struck again with a transition goal by Gohsler on a righty shot that hit the right side of the net.

8 gl st moormend mlok

Mendham midfielder Christine Graziano (23) keeps in step with Moorestown’s Anne Keim. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“Last year we sat on the bus in silence (coming into the game),” Durso said. “This year we left the bus on fire. We wanted to keep it going. It’s just the way the team was this year.”

Moorestown scored a pair of goals then it was Mendham’s turn again. Christine Long’s unassisted effort at 6:37 was followed a minute later by an unassisted Gohsler goal that gave the Minutemen a 4-3 edge at 5:39.

The Quakers defense took away any chance of the Minutemen feeding teammates near the crease. Mendham had to find way to find scoring through matchups on isolation.

“Moorestown’s defense presses out a lot on us,” Gohsler said. “We wanted to take advantage of the 1 v 1’s. We knew we could beat them on 1 v 1’s once we got space. We usually do cutters but they did pretty good marking up on our cutters. It was a team effort on doing 1 v 1’s around the 12-meter.”

It was fortunate for Moorestown that Marie McCool rallied her team with an unassisted score with 6.9 seconds left or else the favored Quakers would have trailed at the half. Her score tied the game at 4-all.

The second half was tight and low scoring. Moorestown jumped out to a 6-4 advantage with 8:53 left in regulation and Mendham called a timeout. Down two goals with time running out, Mendham still wouldn’t quit.

“We had to adjust our attack a little bit,” Gohsler said. “We wanted to settle things down. We wanted to keep our composure and slow it down. We worked out a new offense.”

Mendham regrouped and Graziano notched an unassisted goal with 7:45 left to make it 6-5.

38 gl st moormend mlokChristine Graziano (23) scored twice and also worked hard to win her share of draws against Moorestown. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Mendham had five separate scoring opportunities in the final minutes but couldn’t get the ball past Moorestown’s second-half keeper freshman Jess Goralski. The best chance may have been a free position shot by Graziano that was snagged by Goralski at the five-minute mark.  Another free position shot by Gohsler was blocked and deflected. The Quakers eventually held on for the win, but it certainly wasn’t an easy one.

It was the best result Mendham had against its South Jersey rivals since the remarkable 14-13 four-overtime defeat of 2011. Despite the loss, it was a game the Minutemen can point to with a sense of pride. They nearly shocked the girls lacrosse world and the Quakers will never look at them the same way again.

“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs this year,” Gohsler said. “I’m so proud of our team. Especially me because I’m a senior and I get to leave on this game. I couldn’t be more proud of my team or myself with the way that I played.”

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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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