CAMDEN– When the New Jersey City University women’s soccer team did not win a league game and finished in last place in the New Jersey Athletic Conference every year from 1995-2008, an appearance in the NJAC Tournament was merely a dream. But there’s no need to pinch the 2010 Gothic Knights, because on October 27, that dream became a reality. Junior forward JULIA CASERES (Union, NJ/Union) buried her 22nd goal of the season and 74th of her career off a feed from sophomore forward ASHLEY CUNHA (Edison, NJ/Edison) in the 55th minute and the NJCU defense made the lead stand as the Gothic Knights defeated Rutgers University-Camden, 1-0, in the final New Jersey Athletic Conference game of the 2010 regular season on Wednesday night at Rutgers-Camden Community Park.
With the win, NJCU matches the single-season school record for victories, improving to 13-6 overall and 4-5 in the NJAC, and not only qualifies for the NJAC Tournament for the first time in program history, but actually finishes fifth, rather than sixth in the final conference standings, due to a head-to-head win over Kean University. NJCU finishes the NJAC schedule with a school record for conference points (12) and wins (4), after winning three NJAC games last year.
NJCU will travel Pomona, NJ on Saturday, October 30 at 1 p.m. to challenge fourth-seeded Richard Stockton College in the NJAC Quarterfinals. The Ospreys won the initial meeting on October 9, 5-2.
Camden’s season closes at 2-14-2 (0-7-2); the Scarlet Raptors lead the all-time, 9-2. NJCU, which recorded only its second-ever NJAC road victory and second-ever NJAC shutout, also defeated the Raptors in Camden last season, 1-0.
The game-winning goal by Caseres at 54:33 of the second half also proved historic, as she tied the NJAC all-time, all-genders career goals record. Her 74th career goal (179th career point) equaled the mark of 74 goals (184 points) by Kean star and former NJCU assistant men’s soccer coach Fred Guiran from 1990-92.
Fifth-year head coach ROBERT BIELAN, who has transformed the program from an afterthought into a legitimate contender in his short tenure, said: “For our program it’s definitely been a history-making season. For some programs they’ve been in and out [of the NJAC Tournament]. For us, this is all new, fresh, and exciting. The girls don’t want to go into the first round and get knocked out. We want to make a good showing and hopefully challenge for one of the top spots and make the NJAC Semifinals.”
“The coaches [in the preseason conference poll] expected us to finish seventh and we finished fifth and making the NJAC Tournament is what I envisioned when I first came here,” Bielan added. “We’ve been building each year on the previous year’s record and keep propelling the program forward. At this point, we’re still building.”
NJCU outshot Camden, 26-7, including 15-3 in the first half and posted a season-high in corner kicks—a 13-2 advantage over the hosts. The 13 corner kicks matches a single-game school record, accomplished four other times.
Junior goalkeeper LAURA ROBINSON (Edison, NJ/Edison) made three saves for the Knights as she notched her fourth shutout of the season and the team’s fifth. It was the 10th time Rutgers-Camden was blanked this season, setting a new program mark —eclipsing the nine shutouts they suffered in 2008. Five of Camden’s shutout defeats have been by a 1-0 score.
NJCU’s all-time leading scorer, junior JENNIFER ALBUJA (Union City, NJ/Hoboken) continued to play brilliantly since being converted from forward to sweeper this month. Albuja, along with junior defenders ERICA BUONACQUISTA (Aberdeen, NJ/Bayonne), NICOLE SARICA (Linden, NJ/Linden) and MARGIE ALFANO (Randolph, NJ/West Orange) helped limit the Raptors to only three shots on goal and none that could be deemed dangerous.
In a history-making week in which NJCU received votes in a national poll for the first time in its existence—five votes in the D3soccer.com Top 25 poll—NJCU was unlucky offensively in the first half, hitting the crossbar twice. Caseres struck the iron with a header at 32:56 and Cunha did the same with a shot at 39:53.
Caseres chalked up 12 shots in the game, including seven on goal—the 10th time in her two-year NJCU career she has record double figures in shots in a game. Cunha uncorked seven attempts (two on goal) and sophomore midfielder CHELSEA SPETHMANN (Wood-Ridge, NJ/Hasbrouck Heights-Wood Ridge) added four shots (two on goal).
But NJCU didn’t score until Caseres found the net for an NJAC-leading 22nd time this season. The Knights played the ball down the right side where Cunha flicked it to Caseres near the top right of the box. Caseres outran a defender toward the right post and launched a shot into the left side of the net for her fifth game-winner of the season. The assist was Cunha’s sixth of the year.
In two seasons, the tandem of Cunha to Caseres has been extremely productive. Cunha has recorded 10 assists (three this year) on goals by Caseres.
NJCU had several other solid scoring chances but freshman keeper Leighanna Milby (Blackwood, NJ/Highland Regional) made seven second-half saves. Freshman Kelly Harper (Delanco, NJ/Riverside) played the first 45 minutes and made three saves without a goal against in the opening period. Camden also had a second-half team save on a shot by Cunha at 48:40.
On Senior Night, Camden honored six players: four-year veterans Maura Gillane (Blackwood, NJ/Highland Regional),Lindy Iannacone (Riverton, NJ/Palmyra), Vanessa Maia (Union, NJ/Union),Kathleen Malony (Haddonfield, NJ/Haddonfield Memorial) and Christina Vitagliano (Cherry Hill, NJ/Cherry Hill West), and graduating junior Stephanie McHugh (Sicklerville, NJ/Timber Creek).
In 2009, NJCU had a chance to qualify for the NJAC Tournament for the first time before losing a 2-1 road decision on the final day of the regular season to Montclair State University when current assistant coach Leah Tepperman, then a senior keeper for the Red Hawks, made nine saves. History was not to be repeated on the final day of the 2010 NJAC schedule.
Bielan, noting that final day loss, said: “Last year after we got knocked out, we, as a coaching staff, went out and knew we had to bring in some additional players to help us. Leah Tepperman knocked us out single-handedly and we knew we’d be stronger this season adding her to the coaching staff. Having her train our keepers has paid dividends. It’s a good feeling to finally make it to the NJAC Tournament and get this monkey off our back. The first few years I was here we tried and hoped to make it, but knew we weren’t going to. Last year we were so close. We came to the party and we couldn’t get in. It’s a good feeling to have finally accomplished this. I certainly want to thank my wife and family for the support they’ve given me and the program.”
Before NJCU meets Stockton in the NJAC Quarterfinals on Saturday, the Knights will close out the regular season on Thursday, October 28 at 4 p.m. with a non-conference home game against Neumann University. It will be the first-ever meeting between the schools as NJCU—8-1 at home this year—looks to break the single-season record for team victories.
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