MONTGOMERY: Cougars win third straight sectional

MHS girls soccer rallies against Hunterdon Central

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   For most of the season, Sarah Bielawski has been a regular starter as a wide midfielder for the Montgomery High School girls soccer team.
   After an injury to Katherine Lynch, however, the junior was thrown into the left back spot after the first game of the state tournament.
   ”It’s definitely a different mindset, having to face really good forwards that we saw, and knowing that any mistake you make could be detrimental,” Bielawski said. “You don’t have people behind you. It wasn’t that big a step, but it was a big difference.”
   Under relentless pressure from Hunterdon Central at the start of the game, the Cougars finally gave up a goal with Bielawski in her new spot, but over the final 60 minutes, it was Montgomery that had the better of play. Goals by Jessi Goldman and an assist from Goldman to Colby Ciarrocca gave the Cougars a 2-1 win Friday for their third straight Central Jersey Group IV state title.
   ”It feels great,” Bielawski said. “The team has been working really hard this year. It was very successful this week with our state run.”
   MHS had missed out on the conference and county championships it set its sights on to begin the year, but the fourth-seeded Cougars were able to stop third-seeded Hunterdon Central in the grudge match.
   ”It was definitely a tough season coming off such a huge season last year,” Bielawski said. “We were ready for what was coming and were really excited. There are so many seniors and all of us wanted to play our hearts out for them.”
   HC had won the season opening meeting, then the Cougars took the second meeting and now the third, and biggest, meeting between the two sides.
   ”It was certainly different than the first game,” said MHS head coach Jeremy Beardsley whose wife had their third child, a boy, early Friday morning. “We are nothing close to the team that stepped out to start the season.”
   The Cougars have had to reinvent themselves on several occasions to deal with injuries and illnesses that cost them some consistency.
   ”We haven’t made any adjustments to the system we play,” Beardsley said. “We’ve just plugged kids in.
   ”You win a championship, you do it in a special way. Everyone had to pick up their game when we were missing some pieces. That’s what makes it more special this year.”
   Moving Bielawski to defense was a calculated gamble. She had never played in the back, and not in the three-back set that Montgomery employs.
   ”I felt I was surrounded by a lot of people able to back me up and help me through it,” Bielawski said. “I felt I was getting used to it towards the end. I’m definitely a midfielder, but I was having a lot of fun on defense.”
   Bielawski’s move allowed Beardsley to continue to keep Goldman up instead of sliding her back to defense, and that paid off with Goldman providing the tying goal and the assist on the game-winner.
   ”We wanted someone other than Colby up there that the other team would have to worry about,” Beardsley said. “Sarah allowed us to do that. Jessi has had an incredible state tournament.”
   He has been impressed as well with what he’s seen from Bielawski, who has proven to be a perfect fit at left back.
   Said Beardsley: “She’s smart. She’s fast. She’s great in the air. She’s physical. She’s good with her left foot. She has all the attributes. The only reason that I thought why I wouldn’t use her is her lack of experience.
   ”It’s hurt our midfield not having her. When we looked at everyone, I wasn’t comfortable with anyone else. We’d have to play a four-back with someone else.”
   With Lynch scheduled to return to the team from a concussion, Bielawski will return happily to her usual wide midfield spot for the Cougars’ 5 p.m. game today against Lenape at Neptune in the state Group IV semifinals.
   ”It’s definitely a challenge,” Bielawski said. “Lenape is a great team. They have great players and a great history. I feel we’re up to the challenge and we’re definitely prepared. We have a lot of momentum and emotion going into the game.”
   The Cougars topped Lenape last year on their way to the Group IV state title, but after the first meeting of this season between the teams, Lenape is the favorite.
   ”They’re even better than last year,” Beardsley said. “It’s scary what they do. It’s a joy. It’s a privilege to go down and still play at this point in the season. It’s cool we get to play them with Colby and Jessi. Colby was at Vanderbilt and Jessi was down with an ankle when we played the first time (a 3-0 win by Lenape early in the season). It’s fun we get to play them with those two players. In an 80-minute game, anything can happen.
   ”We’re not as good as we were last year; they’re probably better, but this team has some magic. We’re going to try to see if we can have that magic for one more game.”