Bears playing up to reputation early on


Staff Writer

Above, East Brunswick’s Shannon Mastrogiovanni climbs the back of J.P. Stevens’ Caroline Vitale during a GMCRed Division matchup in East Brunswick on Thursday. At left, the Bears’ Samantha Citron heads the ball past Stevens’ Jessica Hladky.  Above, East Brunswick’s Shannon Mastrogiovanni climbs the back of J.P. Stevens’ Caroline Vitale during a GMCRed Division matchup in East Brunswick on Thursday. At left, the Bears’ Samantha Citron heads the ball past Stevens’ Jessica Hladky. It’s no secret that the East Brunswick girls soccer team has state title aspirations this year.

After all, they’ve made it to the Central Jersey Group IV championship game the past three years, only to lose each time to Brick Memorial in heartbreaking fashion — a 1-0 affair and two games decided by a golden-goal penalty kick.

PHOTOS BY JEFFGRANIT staff PHOTOS BY JEFFGRANIT staff Needless to say, the Bears would love to get another shot at the Mustangs, who are the first team to win three consecutive Group IV championships.

But head coach Lou Kosa, now in his 28th season, warns his kids about the dangers of looking too far ahead.

“We have high aspirations,” he said. “We start trying to win the Red Division, then we move on to the GMC. And obviously we’re trying to get back to the sectional final.

“The girls are looking forward to it, if we can get that far,” he added. “We try to keep it low key at this point, but kids talk and you can’t do anything about that.”

What’s obvious is that this year, the Bears are on a mission. While they are the favorites to emerge as the top team in both the Red Division and the GMC once again (something they’ve managed to do for 23 of the last 25 years), they expect more from themselves this time around.

They are simply loaded with talent, returning several game-breaker-type players, led by All-Conference performers Arielle Tagger and Kristie Lang, both seniors.

But while Tagger and Lang are the big names, the entire Bears lineup is dangerous, with six starters returning, and five newcomers stepping in and playing like seasoned veterans.

“So far it’s been a pretty balanced team,” Kosa said. “We’ve been moving the ball around well, and teams really can’t key that much on one person.”

On Tuesday, the Bears took on a tough Scotch Plains team and emerged with a 2-1 victory — their sixth win of the year against no losses.

“That was a real physical game, and a good win,” Kosa said.

Senior forward Jessica Campbell scored both goals for the Bears, with Lang and junior midfielder Casey Caruso, who has six goals already, picking up the assists.

Scotch Plains got a second-half goal to cut into the lead, but the Bears clamped down from there, outshooting their opponent 13-5 overall.

Tuesday’s win marked the second consecutive impressive out-of-conference win for the Bears, who also knocked off Hunterdon Central, 3-1, on Saturday in what Kosa described as another impressive performance.

Lang scored two goals in that one, with Caruso adding the third goal to ice the game.

On Saturday, the Bears will be tested by a strong Old Bridge team that is certainly better than its current 2-3-1 mark, and just knocked off a very good Piscataway team on Tuesday, 3-2.

“I expect that to be another tough game,” Kosa said.

Thus far, the Bears have looked every bit as good as advertised. Maybe even better.

“Right now we’re probably playing above what I expected,” Kosa said. “We’re starting four or five sophomores, so we should get better as the season goes on.”

That’s not something the rest of the GMC is happy to hear.

Notes … When his veteran catcher, Crash Davis, questioned why Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh wanted to throw a first-pitch fastball to a batter in the movie Bull Durham, LaLoosh told Davis that he wanted to “announce his presence with authority.”

While the result in the movie was a home run, Old Bridge’s Jen O’Donnell was much more effective in announcing her presence in the Knights’ win over Piscataway on Tuesday.

The freshman notched an unlikely hat trick, scoring all three goals against the GMC’s best keeper, Caitlin Wesnesky, in just the second game of her varsity career. And in doing so, she bailed out her team, which allowed two goals with some sloppy play early.

After beating Wesnesky for her first goal with just two seconds to play in the first half, O’Donnell got goal No. 2 on a rebound of a Becky Bentley shot in the 70th minute. That goal sent the game into overtime.

In double overtime, O’Donnell fired a shot past the diving Wesnesky to win the game.

Needless to say, O’Donnell made quite an impression on her teammates.

Another local team playing well early on is the Sayreville Bombers, who improved to 3-0 with a 3-1 win over Monroe on Tuesday.

The Bombers got the game-winner from Heather Roy in the 60th minute, after Lauren Bednarz had tied the game off a pass from Susannette Rios. Sayreville’s third goal came in the second half, when Caileigh Giovenco scored off a pass from Jessica Liquori.

Monroe’s goal was scored by Raven Chiara just two minutes into the game.

The Bombers are playing like the elite team they expected to be, and with a veteran roster complemented nicely by some talented newcomers, should challenge teams like Woodbridge, North Brunswick and Monroe for the White Division title.