JERSEY CITY—The New Jersey Athletic Conference monkey is finally off the back of the New Jersey City University women’s soccer team. Sophomore striker JULIA CASERES (Union, NJ/Union), the Division III national leader in goals, posted a hat trick against her former team to lead the Gothic Knights to an emotional, 5-1 rout of rival Rutgers-Newark, in an NJAC game on Saturday at the Robert L. McNulty Memorial Soccer Field, in front of more than 300 fans.
The win is NJCU’s first conference victory since a 3-2 decision over Montclair State University on October 6, 1994 and the first non-loss since a 1-1 tie at Ramapo College on October 21, 1995. The victory ends a 111-game NJAC winless streak and a 103-game conference losing skid.
While NJCU has had success in non-conference games, particularly in the last four seasons since ROBERT BIELAN has served as head coach, the Knights weren’t able to win a league game. The NJAC, perhaps the best soccer conference in Division III, routinely has more than half of its 10-team membership qualify for post-season competition.
With the win, NJCU improves to 7-4 overall (1-2 NJAC) while the Raiders fall to 4-6 (0-3 NJAC). Newark still leads the all-time series, 9-1. NJCU outshot the Raiders, 20-11, including 12-2 in the opening period.
“It’s a well deserved victory,” Bielan said. “The girls worked hard for the coaches and the athletic department believed in the program and when you have all those components working together towards the same goal, anything is possible. I’m one of the junior coaches in the league, and knew it would take a few years to rebuild the program and bring in talented players. Today everything came together.”
Caseres was the spark that helped the Knights finally realize their goal of a conference win. As a freshman in 2008 she scored 22 times in 20 games for the Raiders.
In her first meeting against her former club, the two-time NJAC Offensive Player of the Week netted her fourth hat trick of the year—the first by an NJCU player in a league game since Michele Reilly had three goals in a win over Ramapo on September 21, 1994.
For Caseres, who now has 40 goals in 31 collegiate games, she notched her sixth multiple-goal game of the year. She has 18 goals and 44 points in 11 games this season.
Also for NJCU, freshman defender AMANDA SPETHMANN (Wood-Ridge, NJ/Hasbrouck Heights—Wood-Ridge), netted her first career goal, and it proved to be the game winner.
Freshman forward ASHLEY CUNHA (Edison, NJ/Edison) notched her 11th goal of the season, as she continues to make her mark at NJCU.
Sophomore midfielder KATLIN VARGO (Edison, NJ/Union Catholic) contributed two assists, bringing her total to seven. Meanwhile, senior defender JESSICA IRIZARRY (Perth Amboy, NJ/Perth Amboy), a four-year starter for the program, chipped in an assist on a historical day for the NJCU program.
Newark’s lone goal was scored by sophomore midfielder/forward Liana Abreu (Newark, NJ/Science Park), her eighth of the season.
NJCU junior keeper KELLY REILLY (Pennsville, NJ/Pennsville Memorial) made five saves for the win. Newark sophomore Kat Renteria (North Bergen, NJ/Cliffside Park) had four stops for Newark.
After a scoreless opening 30 minutes, NJCU finally got in the board at 30:05. Caseres was tackled on the left side of the box while driving to the goal and one game after missing a penalty kick against Kean University, cashed in with a blast over the opposing keeper.
Spethmann made it 2-0 at 40:59 of the opening half. From the right wing, steps from the sideline, she eluded a defender and lofted a perfect cross towards the net. It was such a pinpoint pass that she buried the ball into the upper left corner of the goal. The Knights led 2-0 at the break.
Caseres blew the game open when she scored twice in a span of 5:44 early in the second half. Just two minutes into the period, Vargo lofted a pass onto the left wing and Caseres chipped a shot over the head of the keeper who was attempting to cut off the play, tucking the ball into the top right corner from close range at 47:09.
Vargo set up the fourth goal with fancy footwork to avoid defenders on the left wing. She threaded a pass onto the top of the box to Caseres, who fired home a shot into the upper left corner from 17 yards out at 52:53, to cap her hat trick.
At 59:22, Abreu gave Newark its only goal. After her first shot was blocked by Reilly, she slipped her own rebound into the net.
Just a minute after Renteria made a terrific save after Cunha faked out three Newark defenders, the NJCU rookie got her goal. Irizarry took a free kick from her own defensive third after a Newark foul, delivering a pass over the entire Raider defense. Cunha capitalized on her speed, finishing a 1-on-1 breakaway at 68:33.
After the historical victory, Bielan was ecstatic, personally thanking his wife and family for the support they’ve given to him and the program.
“When you come up with a big win over a team in the toughest conference in the nation, it means all the long-term goals we had, to bring in better players and coaches, and to improve as a coach myself were worth it. I strived to be a better coach and make this a respectable program. The confidence and sportsmanship our players are gaining are preparing them for life, on and off the field.”
NJCU will seek its second consecutive NJAC win on Wednesday, September 30 at 4 p.m. when it visits Ramapo College in Mahwah, NJ. Newark travels to William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ at the same time.
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