Taylor Lusardi and Alexa Roemer scored goals and Randolph’s stifling defense did the rest in a 2-0 triumph over Kinnelon in the MCT title game at Roxbury High School on Saturday afternoon.
Lusardi, a senior midfielder, was named Most Valuable Player and goalkeeper Mel Durbin made five saves to gain her 14th shutout of the season. Second-seeded Randolph (13-4-3) was not scored upon in the tournament. The Rams shut out Montville, Chatham, Mendham and Kinnelon and outscored their opponents by an 8-0 margin.
Kinnelon (18-5-1) has reached the MCT title game in three of the last four years and earned two titles during that span. The fourth-seeded Colts struggled despite a strong performance from Karyn Anselmo. Kinnelon was forced to be defensive-minded since its starting goalkeeper, Nicole Schmitt, missed the contest because of concussion-related symptoms. Her backup, Rachel Ulicini, ended up with five saves and played well despite being put in a tough spot.
The final originally was supposed to be played on Oct. 29 as part of a doubleheader with the boys MCT final but that date was scuttled because of the unusual autumn snowstorm. The contest was postponed twice more because the teams did not want to play back-to-back contests while involved in the state tournament.
It was Randolph’s 12th title overall but first since 2001 and its first outright title since the Rams defeated Roxbury, 4-0, in 2000. It was also a rematch of the 2008 final when Kinnelon upset Randolph in a 2-1 triumph with amazing goals by the Colts’ Carmela Pagliarulo and Carleigh Morba.
This time, the Rams had a little more luck on their side.
"It’s awesome," Lusardi said. "Just being with these girls. ... They are my family. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the season."
"Our team worked so hard for everything we did," Roemer added. "It's for right now. It's for this moment. It really paid off."
It took awhile for Randolph to get going. The Rams hadn’t played a varsity game since losing to Clifton in state tournament play on Nov. 3. However, the Rams worked hard and prepared well.
"We've been going non stop every day," Lusardi said. "It was a long week but we stuck it out. We said 'This is our goal.' This is our last game of the season and we have to work through it. We deserved it."
The Rams have the reputation for playing and practicing in tough weather conditions and were rewarded for their discipline.
"We didn’t take one day off," Roemer said. "It was cold. It was raining. We come to play and we work so hard all season. No matter what the weather, we were outdoors practicing. Kinnelon was a good team and we needed to be prepared for them. It’s very rewarding to go out like that."
After an uneventful first half, Randolph coach Colleen Suflay and her staff encouraged the Rams to take more shots and test Ulicini, who has limited varsity experience.
"We knew that we would have to step in and win balls to control the pace of the game," Suflay said. "We want to test every goalie."
The Randolph players gave the Kinnelon goalie credit for responding in such a tough situation.
"She got her hand on a couple of the balls," Randolph midfielder Maria Meizoso said. "Backup goalie or not, she did well. In the first half, we didn’t get many shots off. In the second half, we started capitalizing."
Lusardi scored the eventual gamewinner when she took a feed and turned and ripped a hard, tight shot that slipped under the Kinnelon crossbar with 24:58 left in regulation.
"Maria Meizoso got a little foot on it and I just thought I have to finish it," Lusardi said. "No regrets. I buried it. I was on the edge of the goal, right off the edge of the (left) post. I just had to turn my head and shoot it.
"We just needed to take opportunities. We had four shots in the first half so we weren’t testing the goalkeeper and we finally just decided we had to put it away."
Lusardi, who was a freshman and in uniform for the 2008 final, understands the significance of the event and how important it is to take advantage of an opportunity.
"We’ve been working really hard on our shots lately," Lusardi said. "Every practice has been dedicated to finishing off because that’s been our problem. Today, we came to play. We were just happy to finish off our chances.
Lusardi’s senior leadership helped on a team that starts quite a few underclassmen.
"Taylor battled a bunch of injuries but fought through every single one," Suflay said. "She’s strong in the middle. She controls. Her size helps a lot. She’s verbal. She’s a great leader on and off the field. Her ability to control the pace in the midfield helps us a lot."
The goal seemed to deflate the Colts, who launched hard outside shots on goal by Aine Schanche and Emily Thiem that were stopped by Durbin minutes before Lusardi’s goal.
Kinnelon repelled several Randolph advances in a 15-minute span where the Rams pressed for another score. A deep direct kick by Anselmo was stopped by Durbin with eight minutes left in regulation. Seconds later, Randolph added an insurance goal to cement the win.
Roemer was a callup from the junior varsity when she scored the winning double overtime goal - her first varsity goal in her first varsity game - against Mendham in the semifinal round of the MCT three weeks ago. She added to her big-game legacy when she knocked in a centering pass from Meizoso. Her hard low shot connected from about six yards out with 7:34 left in regulation.
"Maria drove it right to the end line," Roemer said. "We've been practicing that forever - driving the ball to the end line and crossing it back. We do it every single game. She did exactly what we asked her to do. It was right there in the right spot. If you hit it hard, it goes right in."
"I just remember getting the pass from my teammates and getting the ball to Alexa to put it in," Meizoso said. "Honestly, we’ve been practicing that all season. We’ve been doing really well and we just capitalized on our opportunities."
Randolph’s defense made sure that Kinnelon had little chance of a comeback. The Rams kept their MCT opponents scoreless for more than 330 minutes and handled all chances, hard or easy.
"One of the strongest parts of our entire game is our defense," Suflay said. "Its ability to close out and be proactive in breaking down plays has improved. At the end of the season, they began to develop the confidence within the unit and a quick transition to the attack. They have done a really admirable job for us."
Samantha Brener, Caroline Matos and Megan Olsakowski were superior in the flat-back three and Shannon Kiss as the screen defender. Together, they didn’t allow opposing offenses many dangerous opportunities for Durbin to be worried about.
"The defenders are phenomenal," Meizoso added. "Every ball, they get out. Whether it is with their head, their knee, they kick it out every single time."
And, even though Randolph had to wait two more weeks than most Morris County champions of the past, it was worth it.
"We came in focused. I thought that was a credit to the kids," Suflay said. "They made a lot of sacrifices and came in and did what they were supposed to do. They are a young team that acted like veteran players.