MONTGOMERY: Girls Soccer Player of the Year

Ciarrocca met challenges in record-setting season with Cougars

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   An encore to a near perfect season seemed a difficult task for Colby Ciarrocca and the Montgomery High School girls soccer team.
   Ciarrocca was the top goal scorer in Somerset County and one of the best in the state when she helped the Cougars win their first state crown last year. She had a dynamic running mate up top in Catrina Atanda, supreme support from Andrea Niper and a roster of talented teammates that stayed healthy and quite happy in a history-making year.
   Atanda and Niper graduated, and the Cougars faced more adversity this fall than they had in their previous three. Ciarrocca lost her new partner up top, sophomore forward Marissa Kowalski, to a knee injury one month into the season, and defenses hounded the senior striker more than ever. Double and triple teams on her were commonplace. She had to raise her level of play that much more to counteract the changes to the Cougars.
   ”I think you can make a really strong case that she was better this year,” said MHS head coach Jeremy Beardsley. “She didn’t have Catrina and Andrea Niper. A lot fell to her. Jessi (Goldman) really emerged as a tremendous all-state kind of player, and that helped. Kowalski’s injury put more burden on her to score goals and set up goals. For Colby to do what she did with double and triple teams, it was pretty remarkable.”
   Ciarrocca caught and easily eclipsed the program’s all-time scoring records with a productive final year for the Cougars as she helped them return to the state final. Ciarrocca scored 24 goals and had 14 assists, both slightly down from last year’s totals, but the importance of every goal and assist was higher.
   ”She’s scored the most goals that a Montgomery girls soccer player has ever had,” Beardsley said. “The weight of her goals are such a characteristic of her goal scoring. This year, last year and year before that, she’s scored just huge goals. The timing of her goals says so much about how big-time a player she is.
   ”When we had a lead this year and last year, I pulled her off to protect her. Last year, she scored 31 goals and she was off the field for a third of the game. This year, that wasn’t the case, but it’s still remarkable the number of goals and quality and the significance of the goals is remarkable.”
   Just ask any of the victims, particularly as the games got bigger. There was a header to top Notre Dame in overtime early in the season, and another overtime goal to top Watchung Hills in the Somerset County Tournament quarterfinals. In the Central Jersey Group IV semifinal, she scored three goals and assisted on the fourth goal in a 4-0 win over Manalapan. In the sectional final, her header in overtime won the Cougars’ third straight crown, 2-1, over Hunterdon Central. She came up with another header to top Lenape in the Group IV state semifinal to put the Cougars back in the state final.
   ”There was definitely more adversity this year,” Ciarrocca said. “Through the adversity, it brought it together as a team. Our closeness is what brought us through and was a key part of the season.
   ”Obviously, we wanted to be just as successful as last year. We started off a little rocky. As we found ourselves, as we found who we were this year, we were more successful.”
   Ciarrocca’s leadership and big-goal ability was recognized nationally. She was one of 44 players who played in the High School All-American Game in Raleigh, N.C. on Saturday.
   Colby Ciarrocca is the Princeton Packet Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
   ”I think she scored seven less goals this year than last year, but she had eight game-winners,” Beardsley said. “Last year, there were some games where Andrea, Katherine Lynch or Catrina was our best player. This year, every game we needed Colby to be Most Valuable Player offensively. There’s no way we have that run without Colby stepping up. She was our go-to player. It was more clear this year than last year.”
   Ciarrocca helped MHS by providing the one thing that the Cougars could count on — some goal scoring.
   ”It was definitely different without Catrina,” Ciarrocca said. “When Jessi was able to play up there, she was awesome up there and she filled Catrina’s shoes. We played with three center mids this year. I think they did a tremendous job playing together.
   ”It was definitely a challenge for us was to score goals losing such attacking personalities. We won games, 6-0, last year. We knew it was going to be little executions that made the difference this year. It was definitely more of a challenge up top.”
   The goals didn’t come easily, not with so much attention on her. She had to work that much harder to produce offensively. And when the games were closest, and the Cougars needed it most, she knew that both Montgomery and opponents were looking at her.
   ”I think I’m most proud of my goals in bigger moments,” Ciarrocca said. “When we needed a goal, our team would come together and taking it on my back to put the ball in the net. I know people look at me in those moments, and say we’re defending, you’ve got to get it up there.”
   Ciarrocca has always been a high scoring forward. Her game has developed over her time at Montgomery to help her become even tougher to stop.
   ”One of the things that we worked on over the course of last two or three years,” Beardsley said, “is her ability to score from distance. A lot of her goals are on breakaways or close. I thought a piece of her growth was from 25-30 yards out. She had a couple this year, a good five yards out of the box and she just ripped them. She evolved even more into more complete of a goal scorer. She’s clinical up close. She’s good in the air. And she’s developed this ability to score from distance.”
   Ciarrocca has netted some kind rewards for her work. The chance to play in the national all-star game gave her a chance to play with some of the best players in the state, several from her PDA Slammers club team. It topped off a career at MHS that had been all that she could have expected when she joined the program after her family moved from Delaware as a freshman.
   ”These four years have definitely exceeded my expectations on all levels,” Ciarrocca said. “The friendships I’ve made, I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
   Ciarrocca made an impact in her first year and each year thereafter her game grew. After four years, she passed Lauren McClintic for the MHS program’s all-time leading scoring leader.
   ”I’m definitely proud of it,” Ciarrocca said. “I’ve had some pretty cool accomplishments in my four years here, individually and with championships.”
   Her marks will be tough for anyone to top. Beardsley credits her work ethic and competitive drive with getting her to that point.
   ”The goals were great and she scored great goals, but I’ll never forget the way she trained and the way she worked so hard off the ball and what a great teammate she was,” Beardsley said. “She got so much attention and so much acclaim, but she’s the same kid. She’s almost oblivious to how good everyone thinks she is and how she plays. I’m going to remember that more than anything. She was almost numb to all the hoopla around her. She just wanted to play and play with her friends and compete. She’s as competitive a player as I’ve had.
   ”You saw it at the end of the Bridgewater (state) final. There’s seconds left and there’s Colby sprinting after the ball, trying to get one last opportunity. She went to the very end.”
   Ciarrocca is looking forward to the next chapter in her career. She will continue playing at Vanderbilt University, a top academic school that she hopes to see rise in the soccer ranks during her career. After playing at a high club level and with Montgomery for four years, she is ready for the next challenge.
   ”I feel like I’ll make the transition pretty well,” Ciarrocca said. “I think it’ll be hard at the beginning, but it should go well.”
   Beardsley believes that Ciarrocca will contribute early and that her influence can help to change the culture of the Vanderbilt women’s soccer team. Her competitiveness helped the Cougars year after year, even helping them come on strong to reach the state final after a season that seemed hard to match on any level.
   ”I think this year was better individually,” Ciarrocca said. “It was harder up top this year. That challenge made it tougher and made it more rewarding in the end.”