METUCHEN — Heading into their Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament quarterfinal match against Bishop Ahr last month, the Metuchen High School girls soccer team hadn’t lost in 2013 and hadn’t allowed more than two goals in a game all season.
But the Trojans scored four times en route to a 4-1 victory, knocking Metuchen out of the conference tournament and shifting all of their focus onto the state tournament.
Consider the focus restored in the week since their lone defeat. The Bulldogs played Red Division contender Monroe to a 1-1 draw on Halloween and in their first Central Group I match, toppled ninth-seeded Middlesex 5-0 Thursday afternoon. The sectional tournament’s top seed will next play fifth-seeded Florence in next Monday’s semifinals.
Metuchen head coach Val Gazda said her squad knew that if they slipped up and didn’t play their best soccer, that a loss would send them into a winter of wondering what could have been.
Instead of leaving the outcome in question, the Bulldogs sent an all-out assault on the Middlesex net, launching 28 shots at Katlyn Schweyher in the contest.
Alexa Craft-Zaletel finished with a hat trick and Emily Corson added to her stellar senior season with a goal of her own. Katharine Chura rounded out the scoring for Metuchen (19-1-1).
“We focused and were up 4-0 at the half and I told them that they needed to stay with the game plan,” Gazda said. “We worked all week on specific things and it was definitely a team effort today. We put things together that we’ve been working on and we capitalized.”
Middlesex couldn’t get any offense started against an experienced back line for Metuchen, and goalkeeper Emily Buchanan wasn’t tested in the game. But, throughout the contest, Gazda was quick to pull players off the field for substitutes, not willing to let the Blue Jays (6-15) get back into it.
“The kids know that they can’t slack, and if they do, I have someone else on the bench to replace them. There is zero tolerance for packing it in when we get up,” Gazda said.
Gazda, who earned her 300th coaching victory in the season opener, made it known that losing to Bishop Ahr was a bit of a wake-up call for her bunch. But, even with a conference title out of reach, she was pleased with how the Bulldogs have responded since the loss.
“Bishop Ahr was an excellent team; there was no way you can take that away from them. They play in an upper division and they play a fast-paced game and it was a good learning tool for us, because our kids didn’t put our heads down after that game,” she said. “We learned from it and we came back to tie Monroe after that loss, a team that’s very good in their own right, that was part of the whole process for us.”
Standing between Metuchen and a sectional title is Florence, who was a 3-0 winner over Highland Park earlier Thursday.
“We need to execute very well and just need to take shots,” she said. “We need to set the tone and get it done.”