MONTGOMERY: Cougars home finale ends with CJ IV win

Goldman, soccer returning to finals

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   Jessi Goldman’s goal in the final minutes of overtime gave the Montgomery High School girls soccer team an emotional win in the Central Jersey Group IV quarterfinals, and there was no letdown in the semifinals.
   ”It was kind of the opposite,” said the MHS senior. “Because of the last game, I realized we could do it. We looked like a championship team where we were so determined. It didn’t look like it was going our way the whole time, but we won it. Going into this game, knowing what it takes to win a big game, we took that with us, and it helped us win a big game.”
   In a big way. In the home finale for a very special class and Jeremy Beardsley, who has announced that he will step down as head coach at the end of this season, the fourth-seeded Cougars pulled away from ninth-seeded Manalapan, 4-0, Monday.
   ”It was definitely more emotional,” Goldman said. “We knew this was definitely our last home game. Especially for the seniors, it brought out a lot of emotion and wanting our last memory on this field to be a positive one. And wanting to get back to the sectional finals for the third year in a row motivated us to want to come together as a team.”
   The Cougars had a 1-0 lead at halftime after Colleen Gaffey, who had the assist on Goldman’s game-winner last Thursday, found Colby Ciarrocca for the first of her three goals on the day. Helen Sluder scored the Cougars’ other goal, while Ciarrocca and Goldman had assists.
   ”I think more so than other games, we really got our midfield into the attack,” Goldman said. “Our center mids and outside was hungry in the box to score. Everyone wanted to score. Even the defenders were getting in the attack, which really helps us.”
   The defense delivered another shutout with Rebecca Ravitz making a pair of saves. MHS played again without center back Katherine Lynch, who is out with a concussion, but they were hoping to have her back in time for the grudge match with Hunterdon Central scheduled for Thursday, this time for the sectional championship. Hunterdon Central won the season opener, 3-2, while the Cougars prevailed, 4-1, in their second meeting.
   ”The difference in our defending is tremendous right now,” Beardsley said after improving to 13-4-2. “It’s not just our back three. Everyone is doing an incredible job of organizing and defending. Sarah Bielawski has been outstanding at left back, and freshman Alexandra Szigeti has been good in her first states and Julia Straley has been good. It’s not just them. It’s the way the forwards are defending and the way the midfield is staying organized. It’s great team defending.
   ”We gave up a goal against Colts Neck. It should have never been a goal. We really have not given up a goal in the state tournament. We’re going up against a high-powered offense in Hunterdon Central, and it’s going to come down to our ability to defend.”
   The Cougars have missed out on their goals of county and conference championships. The states is the final chance for Goldman’s remarkable class.
   ”It’s starting to set into the younger players that this is our last shot,” Goldman said. “Letting counties slip through our fingers was not a good feeling. We want to redeem ourselves and prove that last year wasn’t a fluke. I think we’re proving it so far.”
   Goldman’s play has been a boost. While she has been overshadowed at times by stars like Ciarrocca and last year’s high-scoring forward, Catrina Atanda, her play has been invaluable to MHS.
   ”What makes her different from Colby and Catrina is they’re pretty exclusively forwards, and she’s left back, midfielder, forward,” Beardsley said. “She played five different positions (Monday). She’s an incredible engine. She works so hard and wants it so badly. She’s a model for what we’ve been doing for a long time. She can score big goals, but she can also defend, be scrappy and energetic.
   ”She’s a delight to watch. Anyone that comes to a game, it’ll take you 30 seconds to see this little blonde kid running all over the field. There’s no question if we didn’t have Jessi Goldman, our season would have ended a long time ago.”
   Goldman never felt overshadowed, just that she was doing her part. She will take her considerable skills and positive attitude to The College of New Jersey women’s team next year, and she will be happy to take the field wherever the Lions want her.
   ”Last year, I was playing solely forward,” she said. “Now I’ve played every position possible on the field. I look at it as I have to be the one to set other players up. I want to be the one to help other players.
   ”Last year I was always up top. This year, I’m all around just playing different positions.”
   Goldman has been happy to contribute whatever she can to keep the season going as long as possible. The Cougars enjoyed a terrific season a year ago, but she doesn’t want that to be her biggest moment.
   ”Most teams would be happy with that,” Goldman said. “We’re never happy with that. It’s crazy how high our standards are. Some teams would be happy with the wins we have. We always want more.”
   The Cougars have a new focus with the state tournament. They had a resolve to return to a third sectional final, and they have made it happen thanks to their experience.
   ”I think the morale of the team is lifting up,” Goldman said. “Every game we get better and better. Being in different types of games, being in close games and ones we dominated, we know how to adjust to different games and we don’t let our emotions overcome us.”
   The Cougars have proven tough to overcome at home. Beardsley believes that the senior class has lost just one home game in the last three years, and there was no way they were going to lose in the semifinals at home.
   ”I just want to keep this going,” Beardsley said. “The idea that it’s going to end, all I’ve known is Montgomery girls soccer as a head coach. Over the years this program has formed me as a coach. I took on this senior class when they were 9 years old and groomed them to be ready for a spectacular high school experience. Every day I think I want one more practice with them.”
   The Cougar players don’t want the run to end either. Their play has proven in through the first three rounds of sectionals.
   ”Going into the season, I honestly didn’t know what to expect,” Goldman said. “I didn’t know if we’d be as good as last year, or as good or better. I see last year’s team in us and everyone wanting to be better and wanting to be a champion. I see the fight in everyone’s eyes and wanting to win a state championship.”