Warriors win first CJ I soccer crown


Kassandra Stillwell reflects the mood of the New Egypt High School girls soccer team to do her part by playing wherever she is needed.

And she embraced another role to help her team when her penalty kick attempt in a shootout beat Metuchen High School’s keeper for the winning goal as the Warriors won their first NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I state sectional championship on Nov. 10 in Metuchen, Middlesex County.

The teams played to a 0-0 tie through 80 minutes of regulation time and 20 minutes of overtime before going to penalty kicks.

New Egypt (16-6-1) made four penalty kicks to the Bulldogs’ two to claim the state sectional crown. Metuchen finished its season at 15-1-2.

The victory moved New Egypt into the Group I state semifinals. The Warriors played Haddon Township on Nov. 15 (after the deadline for this edition). At stake was a berth in the Group I state championship match to be played on Nov. 19 at The College of New Jersey, Ewing.

“This really hasn’t sunk in [yet]. I couldn’t ask for a better senior year,” said Stillwell, who has seen the soccer program play in the state tournament all four years but had never gone this far. “It was the most nerve-wracking situation I’ve been in. I just thought, ‘Don’t look at the goalie. Don’t look into her eyes and keep my eyes on the ball.’ ”

Stillwell, who also takes direct kicks and corner kicks for the Warriors, hit the gameending penalty kick into the top left corner of the Metuchen net.

The Warriors were the No. 3 seed in the bracket and Metuchen was the No. 1 seed. There was no need to take the final kick in the round of five penalties.

“I knew she [Stillwell] was a little nervous before she took the shot, but we talked to her and knew she could do it,” said forward Samantha Bendick.

Bendick also converted a penalty kick for the Warriors. It was the first time New Egypt’s girls had ever played in a match that was decided by penalty kicks.

“Before we took the penalty kicks, we were all nervous. But once Kayla Bancroft made the first one, we knew we could do it,” Bendick said.

It was fitting that Stillwell, who has contributed in different roles, would get the clincher. “It’s not that hard going from one position to another,” Stillwell said. “It’s the same mindset: you have to play offense and defense no matter where you are. You either stand your mark or get open for the play. I play where I’m needed. The coach just finds where everyone plays their best to the best advantage.”

Heading into the Nov. 15 Group I state semifinals, Bancroft was leading

New Egypt with 23 goals in

2011, a follow-up to the 32 goals she scored in 2010.

To get to the state semifinals, the team tied last season’s school record for victories and set a record for shutouts by goalkeeper Amber

Steen with 12, one more than last season. The Warriors recorded a 1-0 overtime victory over Point Pleasant Beach on a goal by Bancroft, and a 6-2 triumph over Highland Park, before handing Metuchen its first loss of the season.

“We actually spent a couple of days practicing penalty kicks before that [Metuchen] game so the girls could see what it’s like,” coach Jen Kociuba said. “For the [Group I] semifinals, I think we’re pretty nicely matched [against Haddon Township]. It’s whoever can capitalize on opportunities. No matter what, this is one of the special teams here and they find a way to win.”

“It feels awesome. I think our team is working well together,” said Bendick, who has scored 18 goals as one of the two forwards along with sophomore Taylor Leonardo. “This is our second year working together as a unit because we only lost a couple of seniors from last season. We did a lot of work during the offseason and played a lot of pickup games over the summer.”

Stillwell and Bendick said they believe a 1-0 victory over formidable Burlington Township convinced them this would be a solid season.

Bendick said the team has been scoring a lot lately, including herself.

“I couldn’t do it if not for my teammates behind me,” she said. “At this point, our skills are up to par. It’s the mental aspect.”

Kociuba said 2011 has been a personally satisfying and gratifying season.

“In all my years coaching, this is the best team for coaching and one of the better for instincts of where to go and how to play,” she said.