In Battle For Final NJAC Playoff Spot, Montclair Edges NJCU, 2-1

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MONTCLAIR—New Jersey City University was hoping to complete its worst-to-a-berth story, outshooting Montclair State University, 19-11. But with the game tied 1-1 in the first half, NJCU failed to capitalize on a penalty kick, the Red Hawks scored in the 35th minute for a 2-1 margin, and that was the final result, as MSU edged the Gothic Knights, 2-1, in the final New Jersey Athletic Conference game of the 2009 regular season, at Sprague Field on Thursday evening.

NJCU, hoping to complete its historic season with a dramatic late-season surge into the NJAC Tournament for the first time in school history, but instead finished the year seventh in the conference standings. It was still the best finish in the NJAC as the Gothic Knights, who entered having won five of their last six, fall to 12-8 overall and 3-6 in the league.

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While NJCU will not participate in the NJAC Tournament, the Knights should be selected to their first ECAC Metro Tournament when those pairings are announced on Monday, November 9.

NJCU entered the game one point ahead of MSU in the NJAC standings, needing only a win or a tie to clinch a tournament berth after having not won a conference game since 1994 prior to the season.

Meanwhile, the Red Hawks (9-5-2, 3-4-2 NJAC), who will be the No. 6 seed when the league championship begins on October 31, and will face #3 seeded William Paterson University, kept alive its string of 11 consecutive NJAC Tournament appearances. MSU has qualified each year since the tournament’s inception in 1999. MSU leads the all-time series with NJCU, 15-1.

Freshman forward ASHLEY CUNHA (Edison, NJ/Edison) gave NJCU a 1-0 lead in the 8th minute with her 19th goal of the year and fourth in league play, while sophomore forward JULIA CASERES (Union, NJ/Union) extended her single-season program record with her 13th assist.

Montclair received goals from senior forward Natalia Sisti (Lincoln Park, NJ/DePaul Catholic) and freshman forward Marisa Zayac (Jackson, NJ/Jackson Memorial), with one assist by senior forward Liza Offreda (East Rutherford, NJ / Midland Park).

NJCU had a 9-5 edge in first half shots and a 10-6 second-half advantage, and owned a 9-4 cushion in corner kicks. But MSU senior goalkeeper Leah Tepperman (North Andover, MA/North Andover) made nine saves to thwart the third highest scoring offense in Division III.

Junior keeper KELLY REILLY (Pennsville, NJ/Pennsville Memorial) made two saves in the first half, allowing both Montclair goals. Freshman keeper CATHERINE HENSLEY (Dripping Springs, TX/Dripping Springs) made two second half saves without allowing a score.

Cunha put NJCU ahead 1-0 on the first shot of the game for either side. At 7:37 of the first half, the Knights dished a ball on the left side to Caseres who got off a short shot that was partially tipped by Tepperman, who went sliding after the ball. The tip bounced out to the middle where Cunha deposited the ball into the wide open net. Cunha had seven shots for NJCU, with three on target.

Zayac tallied the game-tying goal for the Red Hawks at 22:02. Offreda and NJCU freshman defender CHELSEA SPETHMANN (Wood-Ridge, NJ/Hasbrouck Heights-Wood-Ridge) battled for the ball down to the endline inside the box. As the two tangled Offreda gained possession and made one dribble before lifting a cross right in front of the goal where Zayac was able to head the ball over Reilly for a 1-1 tie.

Caseres, who had eight shots in the game—five on goal—had two quality shots off in the next seven minutes, including a header off a Cunha corner kick that went high over the bar as NJCU looked to retake the lead.

The Knights had an opportunity to regain the lead with exactly 11 minutes left in the half as Caseres was taken down inside the box and awarded a penalty kick. But Caseres, seeking her 27th goal of the year, sent her kick high over the right corner of the goal, keeping the game tied.

Montclair took advantage of the momentum after the missed penalty kick, as Sisti would give MSU the lead just 27 seconds later, scoring off an unassisted trickling 15-yarder with 10:33 left in the first half. A long pass from inside midfield got through to Sisti, who then moved toward the goal. She was able to evade a sliding Reilly who came way off her line to challenge.

Sisti sent the ball slowly rolling toward the goal. The ball traveled 15 yards and managed to get across the goalmouth a step ahead of several defenders. It was Sisti’s eighth goal of the season and 14th career game-winning goal. She had six of MSU’s 11 shots, with four on goal.

Trailing by one, NJCU had 10 second half shots, with six on goal. Caseres came close to scoring early in the half, as she had Tepperman out off her line at 52:31, before the MSU keeper made the save.

In the 69th minute, sophomore midfielder KATLIN VARGO (Edison, NJ/Union Catholic) sent a corner kick to rookie midfielder DELIA CHERNEZ (Union City, NJ/Union City), who tried to head the ball from near the goalmouth, before Tepperman was there to smother the shot, keeping Montclair in front.

NJCU would get one last solid chance with a corner kick with 1:42 remaining. Vargo again made a solid cross into the box. Sophomore sweeper NICOLE SARICA (Linden, NJ/Linden) put forth a good header, but Tepperman came up with the save and Montclair escaped with the one-goal victory.


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