North Brunswick Township High School was not supposed to win the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament championship on May 10 at East Brunswick High School.
The Raiders were the No. 2 seed in the girls’ lacrosse field, but they were facing a mighty No. 1 seed in Old Bridge High School. The heavily favored Knights entered the contest with a sterling resume that included a 16-1 record and 239 goals.
But in the GMC title clash, North Brunswick upset Old Bridge, 10-6, and earned its first conference tournament championship since 2016.
The Raiders unleashed a 4-0 run late in the first half to take a 7-2 lead into halftime. Then, using a smart defensive strategy, they held off the Knights in the second half.
“We’ve been talking all season about putting a full game together,” said North Brunswick coach Danielle Porzio. “We put everything together on offense and defense.”
North Brunswick’s offense has been electric all year, averaging more than 13 goals per game. And its best players came through again in the GMC championship.
Senior Hayley Greenberg reeled off four goals and three assists. Junior Katherine Manley posted three goals and an assist. Sophomore Alexis Rich recorded two goals and an assist.
The core attack players did enough. But it was North Brunswick’s defense that made the difference in this championship upset.
Old Bridge thrived in transition all spring, especially during an 18-8 victory over North Brunswick on April 20.
Porzio watched the film from that game, and developed her strategy. Porzio wanted to slow the Knights down in transition. So she kept her defenders back in a zone to prevent clear run outs for the opposing attackers.
When the Knights had possession, they were forced to stop outside the circle and pass the ball around for an open shot. At this point, Porzio’s defense became something like a basketball box-and-one. Freshman Katerina Varelis attacked the ball and guarded creators one-on-one.
With this strategy, the Raiders had two lines of defense: Varelis and the zone behind her. And all the zone defenders, freshman Kelly DeGaetano, senior Keyara Hill, senior Talysa Jimenez and senior Kiera Welsh, formed the second line into an impenetrable wall.
Varelis doubles as a girls’ soccer player. DeGaetano also plays soccer and girls’ basketball. They are athletes capable of defending other athletes. The other three, Hill, Jimenez and Welsh, are seniors with a lot of chemistry together.
On May 10, they executed a complex, multi faceted and ultimately championship winning plan. Six goals was a season low for the Knights.
“We played backer defense and correctly pressured when they settled,” Porzio said.
With one trophy in their case, the Raiders are now looking toward winning another one. They are the No. 3 seed in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group 4 sectional tournament.
They will play their rival once again, Old Bridge, in a state sectional semifinal on May 21. Old Bridge enters the state tournament as the second seed in the section.
North Brunswick has taken two of the three meetings with Old Bridge this spring. Porzio’s club also beat the Knights, 11-7, on April 1. The Raiders have accounted for both of the Knights’ defeats this spring.
“I feel really great because we have a great group,” Porzio said.