In a season filled with so much tension, pressure and tough competition, it felt good for West Morris to take control of a game early and have something to smile about afterwards.
Four different players registered hat tricks to lift West Morris to a 20-6 triumph over Morristown in an opening-round Morris County Tournament contest on Friday, May 4.
Maggie Maroney, Emily Delaney, Erin Gutkind and Megan Monaco each scored four goals apiece for the fourth-seeded Wolfpack (7-9). West Morris plays the winner of Morris Knolls and Randolph in the quarterfinal round of the tournament. Five different players scored for the 13th-seeded Colonials (5-8).
To say the Wolfpack schedule has been tough is a vast understatement. Facing Chatham, Mendham, Ridgewood and Summit among others in regular-season battles has forced a lot of their first-year varsity starters to learn and improve under pressure.
"It's been a challenge," West Morris coach Rob Herman said. "We have nine losses and eight of them have been to teams in the top 13. We knew that going in it was going to be a challenge. A lot of it is just keeping your spirits high every game and we have been.
"They realize they are playing the best teams in the state and they are competitive in every game. When we were 4-1 and we went to 4-9, there were moments (of doubt) but, for the most part, they believe in themselves, they believe in their abilities and they can fight."
Delaney, a four-year varsity starter, is used to playing on West Morris teams with more wins this time of year but she but believes in her team and its efforts.
"We're very good at keeping our motivation and heart up,'' Delaney said. "It is very frustrating but we come to practice every day and work on what we didn't do during the games."
All the girls did get a boost when alumnus Michelle Poole came back as an assistant this year. The former Rutgers standout, who played collegiately from 2006-09, has been a big help in keeping West Morris competitive technically and spiritually.
"We love her,'' Delaney said. "She is a very big asset. She helps in a lot of ways. She brings up the mood all the time.''
"She gives us the player's point of view,'' Gutkind added. "She's been there and played it especially at her level at Rutgers . She gives us so many pointers that we would never think of ourselves.''
West Morris led, 5-2, about 10 minutes into the first half. After a timeout, the Wolfpack took control and finished the half with a 9-2 run that gave them a commanding 14-4 halftime edge.
"We took advantage of draw control and fed off of each other and just got on a roll,'' Gutkind said. "It really impacts the game a lot. Once we get a couple, it gets us really pumped up.''
Monaco took many of the draws. She's naturally left-handed and strong which gives opponents a unique disadvantage they wouldn't have against a righty opponent.
"She's very good at getting it in the air,'' Delaney said. "We're very good at getting ground balls and winning 50-50s.''
When Morristown did gain possession, West Morris always seemed to find ways to win the ball back. Close defenders Rachel Matthews, Maddie Stull and Elyssa Lamperti have shown consistent improvement and Gonzalez, who has been the team's starting goalie after backing up the past few seasons, has been having a terrific season.
"Once we learned how their offense worked, we were able to adjust,'' said Gutkind, who plays defense wing. "They were cutting a lot, setting picks and doing a lot of work inside the 8-meter, so we stayed stick on stick with the girls to front their passes.''
Now, it's back to work for the Wolfpack, not only for more MCT action but also for the upcoming state tournament. For at least one day, they were able to handle an opponent early and enjoy a well-earned victory.
"I think people do recognize that the teams that we've been playing are the No. 1 teams. That we've been very competitive and were doing very well,'' Delaney said. "Our biggest goal has been keeping up our consistency. We know every game will be a challenge. We're just trying to step it up every time and do our best.''
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