Chatham girls revel in second half comebacks

By Mark Kitchin

Soar-NJ

MENDHAM — The Chatham girls lacrosse team doesn’t know why it has gotten off to such spotty starts this season, but the Cougars have proven that they know how to finish.

Emily Wingate scored off a feed from Bridget Ballard at the 10-minute mark and Chatham held on to defeat Mendham 13-12 in a contest between two traditionally Morris County rivals on Saturday on the turf at Mendham High.

Chatham rallied from a 12-6 second half deficit with seven consecutive goals in the surprising turnaround. Alex Frenzel tied the game at 12-all with a goal with 10:40 left. She also gathered an important ground ball to give Chatham possession with a minute left to cement the victory. The Cougars also had a solid second-half performance by goalie Gislina Saul who made seven saves, five in the second half.

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Chatham goalkeeper Gislina Saul had a strong second half. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Maggie O’Neill fired a hat trick, Ballard had two goals and three assists and Wingate scored twice for the Cougars (4-3). Meri Curtin and Christine Graziano had hat tricks and Carlye Maita, Carrie Speicher and Christine Long scored two goals apiece for Mendham (4-3).

Chatham had a similar come-from-behind victory over Mountain Lakes to start the season. Although coach Hilary Renna admires her team’s resiliency, the method of their triumph is tough on her nerves.

“I hope that they aren’t intentionally trying to come from behind,” Renna said. “We just didn’t come out strong in the first half. We just needed a little bit of a wake up call. In the second half everyone just came out really wanting it.”

Although road teams are traditionally slow starters, there should be no shortage of intensity for Chatham against its county rivals. It’s a situation that often puzzles the players themselves.

43a gl chmendBridget Ballard. left, is a scorer and playmaker for Chatham. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“We’ve always been a second-half team,” Ballard said. “It’s something that’s good for us. We have a lot of energy in the second half but we want to be able to play a full 50-minute game. It’s something we need to focus on.”

Chatham trailed 10-6 at the half and 12-6 after Curtin notched a goal with 23:26 remaining. Then several Cougars adjustments started coming into play. Some were more mental than physical. Chatham just needed to tighten up its man-to-man defense.

“We came out well in the beginning and we kind of had a lull on defense, and we said, ‘okay we have to get our heads back in this’,” Wingate said. “This is our win. We had to step it up and do what we had to do. Everyone lifted their games and did a little more.”

Chatham goalie Saul stepped up her play. She shut down the Mendham shooters for the final 23 minutes of the game.

“Our goalie Gizzy had an awesome second half,” Renna said. “That was huge for us.”

Next Chatham needed to get the ball and solving its problems on the draw helped. Mendham center Graziano is tall and strong. She was winning more than her fair share at the circle with her size and strength. After using three different players on the face-off in the first half, the Cougars finally found the right matchup with defense wing Beth Kuyk taking them.

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Emily Wingate, right, provided the game-winning goal for Chatham. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

“It’s always hard with the draw,” Ballard said. “We are lucky we have a lot of different girls that can take it. When me or Alex were doing it, we could get it up but not to where we wanted it. When Beth got it, she got it right to the girl cutting and it was perfect.”

Suddenly the goals started pouring in. Frenzel at the 20-minute mark and back-to-back scores by Ballard made it a game. Kuyk scored with 14:30 to make it 12-10. Cougars’ Schuyler Bixby scored on a free position with 13 minutes left. When Frenzel was fouled and set up for a free position opportunity there was no doubt the game would be tied at 12.

“She is great on the eight-meters,” Wingate said. “She is great at drawing that foul.”

It would only take 40 seconds later for Chatham to take the lead. Ballard and Wingate have been playing together since the fourth grade. It showed in the seamless way Ballard hit Wingate from the left side with a pass as she was cutting in front of the crease. Her lefty shot hit net for the final goal of the game.

“We have plays that involve multiple, different people,” Ballard said. “If one option doesn’t work we have two other options. We worked through our plays and we took whatever option came to us and it worked.”

There were still 10 minutes on the clock but Chatham was ready on both sides of the field. Much of the time was run down by the Cougars offense which diligently moved the ball looking for a sure goal while eating up time. When Mendham had possession it put three shots on goal, each was handled expertly by Saul.

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Mendham’s Carrie Speicher (7) gets an early shot on goal against Chatham. (Photo by Mark Kitchin)

Mendham’s last possession came with about two minutes left in the game but the Minutemen couldn’t capitalize. A Mendham player slipped while trying to make a move and lost the ball at midfield. Frenzel pounced on it and the Cougars rejoiced.

“She always plays like she wants it,” Renna said. “We can count on her to be a ground ball vacuum off the draw or in the eight-meter. She has a nose for the ball. She always seems to come up with it.”

Such late game heroics may not help Chatham this upcoming week. The Cougars play Oak Knoll, Bridgewater-Raritan and Ridgewood, all strong teams presently producing stellar results. At 5-1 Chatham seems ready for the challenge. The Cougars show tremendous team chemistry and seem to be at mid-season form, but against some of the best teams in the state they need to play just as well in the beginning of the game as they do at the end.

“Next week we have a pretty tough schedule,” Renna said. “We definitely need to show that grit.”

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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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