JERSEY CITY– Sophomore forward/midfielder ASHLEY CUNHA (Edison, NJ/Edison) gave New Jersey City University a first half lead before junior center midfielder/forward JULIA CASERES (Union, NJ/Union) buried a penalty kick in the 53rd minute and NJCU withstood a 26-8 disadvantage in shots as the Gothic Knights defeated Kean University for the first time in program history, downing the Cougars, 2-1, in a New Jersey Athletic Conference game on Wednesday at the Robert L. McNulty Memorial Soccer Field.
NJCU improved to 7-3 overall and 2-2 in the NJAC. The Knights are off to their best record after 10 games in the 18-year history of the program. The 1994, 2008 and 2009 clubs opened the first half of the season at 6-4.
The win was also historic as NJCU won a conference game when being outshot for the first time. Kean, which leads the all-time series, 16-1, fell to 6-2-2 with the loss and 1-1-1 in the league. Kean had an 11-3 advantage in corner kicks.
Kean entered the game ranked No. 5 in the NCAA Division III South Atlantic Region poll, as NJCU earns its first-ever victory over a regionally-ranked opponent.
Cunha’s fourth goal of the season gave NJCU a lead in the 26th minute before Kean sophomore midfielder Kristen Hager (Spotswood, NJ/Spotswood) tied the game in the 39th minute on a header off a corner kick from sophomore midfielder Julianna Natale (Clifton, NJ/Clifton). Caseres’ 16th goal of the season gave NJCU the lead for good. It was the 68th goal of her career and 160th point, moving her into a tie for second place in scoring in NJAC history.
Junior goalkeeper LAURA ROBINSON (Edison, NJ/Edison) made five saves and was extremely aggressive at disrupting other crosses. Junior stopper KATLIN VARGO (Edison, NJ/Union Catholic) made a critical team save in the 77th minute.
Vargo, junior defensive center midfielder ERICA BUONACQUISTA (Aberdeen, NJ/Bayonne) and rookie sweeper CAITLIN BOURQUE (Browns Mills, NJ/Pemberton) played a full 90 minutes on defense and helped limit Kean to only seven shots on goal—despite a more than 3-to-1 edge in shots for the visitors. Junior JENNIFER ALBUJA (Union City, NJ/Hoboken) started the game at forward before sliding back as a second sweeper in the final 35 minutes to preserve the victory.
“I’m thrilled we beat a program of Kean’s caliber,” noted fifth-year head coach ROBERT BIELAN, `97. “Our program is now about consistency and working hard and when you have that philosophy, it creates a healthy environment where our players want to play above themselves and they definitely did. Kean has always been a talented program and you are not going to beat them unless you are constantly changing your strategy and tactics and that’s what we did today.”
In the first half, Kean outshot NJCU, 13-5. Robinson controlled her box in the first nine minutes, making a diving stop 3:50 in to smother a dangerous cross, broke up a Kean breakaway at the 7:10 mark and cleared a threat at 8:55. Kean sophomore forward Carly Seidel (Winslow Township, NJ/Winslow Township) missed high in a 2-on-1 situation at 14:37 and junior forward Danielle Esposito (Holmdel, NJ/Holmdel)—who netted hat tricks against NJCU in both 2008 and 2009 and had a game-best six shots in defeat (two on goal)—hit the side of the post from the endline at 16:12.
NJCU would score first at 25:52. Albuja received a pass from the circle and sprinted towards the box, splitting two Kean defenders before being slide-tackled from behind several strides into the scoring area. Before a foul could be called, the momentum of the Kean tackle kept the ball rolling onto the left of the box and an alert Cunha, who was trailing the play, uncorked a blast into the right of the net, past diving Kean senior goalkeeper Leandra Russo (Galloway, NJ/Absegami), who finished with two saves.
NJCU nearly made it 2-0 just 2:15 later, in the 29th minute as Albuja took a pass in the box, played it off her chest and dribbled onto the right post where she eluded a diving Russo, who was unable to cut off the play. However, Albuja was unable to knock the off-balance shot into the open net from five yards out.
Kean had a chance to tie it at 36:35 on a free kick by Natale, before Robinson made a critical stop. But less than two minutes later, the Cougars would get on the board as Natale lofted a corner kick from the right endline and Hager netted a leaping header at 38:08 for her third marker of the year. The schools went to the half even at 1-1.
Robinson kept it tied at 50:06 making a diving stop towards the far post of a shot by Esposito. Just over two minutes later, Caseres beat a Kean defender with a spin move on the left endline before being tripped from behind with a clear path to the goal. She was awarded a penalty kick at 52:40 and buried a shot into the right side of the net for the decisive goal—her fourth game-winner of the season.
Kean kept shooting and held a 13-3 advantage in chances in the second half. Natale hit the post from the left wing at 53:17. Esposito nearly tied it at 76:53 as Robinson was unable to clear a ball on the left of the box. With the NJCU keeper off her line, Esposito tried to tuck a shot inside the far post but Vargo zipped in at the last moment, sliding to knock the shot away. It proved to be Kean’s final shot on goal as the NJCU defense held the lead.
“With Nicole Sarica [NJCU’s junior All-NJAC sweeper] out of the lineup, it’s been tough defensively,” said Bielan. “This is our 10th game—all with a different lineup—and we’re playing to our strengths. We’re constantly changing and improving. We didn’t try to beat a regionally ranked team today—we tried to beat an NJAC team with an excellent history. We go into every game now with the mindset that every team is beatable if we follow our game plan.”
Bielan also had high praise for the defensive effort in the second half of Albuja, who is known primarily for her offensive prowess [62 goals, nine assists, 133 points] in three seasons at NJCU.
“While Julia [Caseres] is a great scorer and offensive threat, Jen is an all-around player. She can play any position at any time. She would love to score the game-winning goal but she wants to win. That’s what is more important to her. She is a team player.”
NJCU is idle until Tuesday, October 5 when it visits City College of New York in a non-conference game at 4:30 p.m. in Purchase, NY. Kean hosts Ramapo College on October 2 at 1 p.m. in an NJAC contest.
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