EWING — After playing three heart-pounding games in the Non-Public South A Tournament, the Bishop Ahr High School girls soccer team put together one of its finest performances of the season Wednesday night.
Jillian Vassallo’s 47th minute goal was the contest’s lone marker and Bishop Ahr (17-2-2) captured its first state title in school history, 1-0 over Immaculate Heart Academy in the NJSIAA Non-Public A Final at The College of New Jersey.
“This is a great moment; these girls have been playing like this all year and nobody believed in us,” Bishop Ahr head coach Jim Tavormina said. “But as soon as Jill struck that ball, I knew it was going in and I knew once she scored, we had to hunker down a bit, and we lost possession there for a while, but we bent and didn’t break and finished up strong.”
The Trojans had never even appeared in a state final prior to this one, but the stage was certainly not too big for them on a chilly evening. Vassallo, who’s been Bishop Ahr’s top scorer all season long, turned away from an IHA defender just outside of the 18-yard box and ripped a low line drive past Taylor Lupi. It was just the third goal that mighty Immaculate Heart (19-2-1) had yielded all year.
“We wanted to ramp up the pressure on them in the second half and we tried to keep the ball in their zone and we got the advantage and I just took the shot and it went in,” Vassallo said. “As soon as I kicked it, I knew it was going in and it’s just such a great feeling to win a state final like this.”
Senior goalkeeper Brianna Foster, who’s been a rock in the net for Bishop Ahr in 2013, shrugged off a nasty collision in the first half and played hobbled for the remainder of the contest. She made five saves to pitch her 16th shutout of the season.
“The support of the fans gave me some energy and I knew it was my last game and I knew I had to go out with a victory,” Foster said. “This is amazing and we weren’t sure what to expect, but we gave it everything we had and I’m so proud of this team.”
IHA ramped up the pressure in the second half after Vassallo’s goal, but every time it looked like the Blue Eagles were going to come up with an equalizer, Foster was there to keep it out. The back line of defense of Cali Clarke, Claire Dundon, Sarah Harmon and Alexa Vassiliadis thwarted every real shot that Immaculate Heart had.
The Trojans certainly fed off the energy from the hundreds of fans that made the trip from Edison to Ewing, paying their own way for buses and game tickets, as the classmates were loud and engaged throughout the contest, chanting and screaming until the final whistle.
“These fans are the best,” Tavormina said. “These kids are great motivation for the girls and the coaches as well. You have to love them.”
Foster and the stingy back line of defense yielded just five goals all season long, with a shutout streak of more than 900 minutes during the regular season.