Women's Soccer Edges NJCU to Grab Final NJAC Tournament Spot

Montclair, NJ (10/29/09) – Senior forward Natalia Sisti (Lincoln Park, NJ / DePaul Catholic) scored off a trickling 15-yarder with 10:33 left in the first half for what turned out to be the game-winning goal as Montclair State locked up the final spot in the upcoming New Jersey Athletic Conference Tournament with a 2-1 victory over New Jersey City University at Sprague Field on Thursday evening.

Freshman forward Marisa Zayac (Jackson, NJ / Jackson Memorial) added a goal for the Red Hawks (9-5-2), who will the No. 6 seed when the league championship begins on Saturday, October 31. MSU will face third-seeded William Paterson in the opening round at Pioneer Soccer Park in Wayne at 1:00 pm. It will be the second meeting in six days between the teams as WPU posted a 2-0 victory back on Monday.  The win also kept Montclair State’s string of 11 consecutive NJAC Tournament appearances. MSU has qualified each year since the tournament’s inception in 1999.

Freshman Ashley Cunha (Edison, NJ / Edison) scored the lone goal for the Gothic Knights (12-8-0), who were seeking their first appearance in the NJAC Tournament. NJCU, which finished 3-6 in the conference, entered the day one point ahead of Montclair in the battle for the final playoff position. The loss, just the second in its last seven matches, ended the finest conference slate for the Gothic Knights who had entered the year having not won an NJAC contest since 1994. That string was broken on September 26 as New Jersey City defeated Rutgers-Newark, 5-1 to break the streak at 111 league games.  

One of the nation’s top offensive teams, the Gothic Knights jumped out early as Cunha collected her 19th goal of the season on the first shot of the game. NJCU sent a ball through on the left side which found the foot of Julia Casares (Union, NJ / Union). Casares got off a short shot that was partially tipped by MSU goalkeeper Leah Tepperman (North Andover, MA/North Andover), who went sliding after the ball. The tip bounced out to the middle where Cunha deposited the ball into the wide open net as NJCU took a 1-0 advantage 7:37 into the match.

Montclair State would get that goal back a little under 15 minutes later. Liza Offreda (East Rutherford, NJ / Midland Park) and NJCU’s Chelsea Spethman (Wood-Ridge, NJ / Hasbrouck Heights-Wood-Ridge) battled for the ball down to the endline inside the box. As the two tangled Offreda gained possession and made one dribble before lifting a cross right in front of the goal where Zayac was able to head the ball over the head of keeper Kelly Reilly (Pennsville, NJ / Pennsville Memorial) at 22:02 knotting the game at 1-1.

Casares got two quality shots off in the next seven minutes, including a header off a Cuhna corner kick that went high over the bar as NJCU looked to retake the lead. The Gothic Knights then got a golden opportunity with 11 minutes left in the half as Casares was taken down inside the box and awarded a penalty kick. But the No. 3 scorer in Division III sent her kick high over the right corner of the goal keeping the game tied..

The Red Hawks then swung the momentum the other way. A long pass from inside midfield got through to Sisti, who then moved toward the goal. She was able to evade a sliding Reilly who came way off her line to challenge. Sisti got by Reilly and sent the ball slowly rolling toward the goal. The ball traveled 15 yards and managed to get across the goalmouth a step ahead of several defenders as Montclair took the lead 2-1. It was Sisti’s eighth goal of the season and 14th career game-winning goal.

Trailing 2-1, the Gothic Knights, who needed only a tie to qualify for the NJAC Tournament, outshot Montclair State 10-6 over the final 45 minutes but could not get the equalizer.

Casares came close in the first several minutes of the half as she had Tepperman out off her line, however that attempt was saved.  In the 69th minute, Kaitlin Vargo (Edison, NJ / Union Catholic) sent a corner kick to Delia Chernez (Union City, NJ / Union City). Chernez tried to head the ball from in close but Tepperman was there to smother the shot keeping Montclair in front.  NJCU would get one last chance as they got a corner kick off with 1:42 remaining. Vargo again made a solid cross into the box. Nicole Sarica (Linden, NJ / Linden) put forth a good header, however Tepperman came up with the save and Montclair escaped with the on-goal victory.

Tepperman finished with nine saves for MSU while Reilly and freshman Catherine Hensley (Dripping Springs, TX / Dripping Springs) each made two saves in one half or work each.

New Jersey City finished with a 19-11 edge in shots and the Gothic Knights also had a 9-4 advantage in corner kicks.