Category Archives: All-Area

2014 Courier News All-Area Boys Lacrosse Team

The 2014 Courier News Boys Lacrosse 1st Team All-Area performers. Photo by: Kathy Johnson

The 2014 Courier News Boys Lacrosse 1st Team All-Area performers. Photo by: Kathy Johnson


Specialist — Paul Rasimowicz, Immaculata, Jr.

Rasimowicz, a faceoff ace, helped win possession for Immaculata game after game, as the Spartans raced to the Non-Public B title.

Attack — Ryan Cunningham, Watchung Hills, Jr.

Cunningham, the unquestioned leader of Watchung Hills’ offense, scored 46 goals and was recognized as an All-American.

Attack— Logan LeBlond, Somerville, Sr.

LeBlond, an All-American himself, finished eighth in the state in points with 110, scoring 45 goals and adding 65 assists for the South Group II champs.

Attack — JT Palladino, Ridge, Sr.

An All-American who netted 40 goals and 34 assists, Palladino will play collegiately at Harvard after a standout career for the Red Devils.

Attack — Luke Prybylski, Westfield, Jr.

In guiding Westfield to the North Group IV title, Prybylski scored 48 goals, with 12 of those goals coming in the postseason. The junior is also an All-American.

Midfield — Jack Harvey, New Providence, Jr.

Harvey, the fifth-leading scorer in the state, posted 122 points to break the New Providence record. He’s already the school’s all-time leading scorer with a season to go.

Midfield — Evan Key, Pingry, Sr.

Key led Pingry with a stellar season, posting 31 goals and 24 assists to earn All-American honors, as the Big Blue went 14-5 one season after a 2-13 mark.

Midfield — Tom Smith, Rutgers Prep, Jr.

Smith scored his 100th career goal and went over 200 career points this season, totaling 64 goals and 102 points for the Argonauts.

Midfield — Chandler Vanderbeek, Immaculata, Sr.

The heartbeat of Immaculata, Vanderbeek earned the Courier News’ Player of the Year honors by scoring 47 goals and adding 12 assists, while playing at an All-American level.

Defense — Sal Fama, Immaculata, Sr.

A true shutdown defender, Fama took on the challenge of covering the opponent’s top-scorer game after game, helping the Spartans allow just 6.75 goals per game.

Defense — Brian Heath, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Sr.

Heath, the Kimber Division’s Defensive Player of the Year, backboned a Scotch Plains-Fanwood defense to a 16-4 record.

Defense — Jackson Simcox, Westfield, Jr.

Just a junior, Simcox was instrumental in Westfield’s turnaround, as the Blue Devils won their first sectional title since 1987.

Goalie — Christian Klipstein, Rutgers Prep, Jr.

Klipstein posted a save percentage of 68.5 and consistently dominated for Rutgers Prep, making a name for himself in the process.

Goalie — Owen Molloy, Ridge, Sr.

Molloy, an All-American, was superb in the Somerset County Tournament final, making 12 saves to earn MVP honors, as Ridge repeated.


Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year: Immaculata’s Chandler Vanderbeek

Immaculata's Chandler Vanderbeek, the 2014 Courier News Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year. Photo by: Kathy Johnson

Immaculata’s Chandler Vanderbeek, the 2014 Courier News Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year. Photo by: Kathy Johnson

You could say that playing lacrosse at Immaculata High School is something that Chandler Vanderbeek was born to do, even if he got to high school thinking he would be a football player primarily. But four years, 96 goals and 125 points later, Vanderbeek will be remembered as one of the very best players to wear the Spartans’ jersey, just like his older brother Taylor before him.

Chandler, along with his twin brother Connor and younger brother Griffin, helped lead Immaculata to the Non-Public B sectional title this season in his final year before embarking on another journey of family and lacrosse with Connor — the two will play at High Point University next year, rooming together in the dorms along the way.

But Chandler said that it wasn’t his original goal four seasons ago to turn himself into a lacrosse star.

“I was more football-minded coming into high school, and then I really fell in love with the sport of lacrosse. I enjoyed it so much, especially my freshman year, coming in with Taylor being a senior,” he said. “I knew I would put together a pretty good career, but I knew I would have to work very hard for it.”

Chandler is the Courier News Player of the Year.

With 47 goals and 59 points this season, Chandler elevated himself into Immaculata’s elite category, according to head coach Tom Mott, who’s been with the program since its inception in the late 1990s.

“The athleticism was very apparent as a 9th grader, when he and his brother came into the program,” Mott said. “You could see early on they were going to be special and Chandler would grab a long-stick and play man-down if we needed him to; we played him at attack and proved he would do whatever it took to win for us. There were games where he scored just once and we won, which speaks to that.”

Chandler credits Connor and Taylor, who is a rising senior captain at Hobart College, along with Griffin, a rising junior for Immaculata who scored a team-best 48 goals this spring, with his development as a lacrosse player.

“There’s nothing better than playing with them on the field; it’s awesome to have your brother out there with you, especially one that’s exactly like you. You’re the same and you’re just as talented and you know what they’re capable of and it’s a great experience to have played with Connor and Griffin and one year with Taylor,” he said. “They make me better, because sometimes you have that competition. Sometimes Connor will score three goals and I’ll hear, ‘Oh, he scored three, he’s your twin brother, what are you going to do now?’ ”

For all of the memories that Chandler and his brothers and teammates have accumulated over the past four seasons, he said that one will always stand out more than the rest, if only because it was relatively unexpected from the outside.

Immaculata hosted national-power St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) — team that finished the season ranked No. 15 nationally — on March 29 of this season and fell behind by four goals at the half. But Chandler netted a hat trick, Connor added a pair and Griffin had his coming out party with four goals, as the Spartans tied the score and forced overtime. In the extra period, Chandler scored the game-winning goal, eventually ending up at the bottom of a dog-pile he said he’ll never forget.

But the joy of winning always pushed Chandler to succeed, saying there “is nothing I hate more than losing.”

Girls Lacrosse Coach of the Year: Ridge’s Barbara Erickson

In a time when lacrosse is blowing up to a point where high schoolers are playing it year-round, Ridge High School head coach Barbara Erickson knew she had a challenge on her hands with the Red Devils this season. Not only was Erickson returning from a one year away from the girls lacrosse program, but she was dealing with a talented group of players that needed a bit of guidance to play as one, with team goals at the forefront.

“My main goal this year, with these kids playing club lactose and putting so much focus on the sport year-round, was to get everyone on the same page and playing together,” Erickson said. “The kids are looking to play in college, so they are showcasing themselves outside of school, so I had to bring them back in and get them on the same page. If you can’t do that, you don’t go very far.”

Ridge, with Erickson leading the way, went very far, winning the North Group IV title, went unbeaten in Somerset County contests and won its third straight county title, all while compiling a 19-4 record.

Erickson is the Courier News Coach of the Year.

“I didn’t know what to expect in my first year back,” Erickson said. “There’s a lot of talent on this squad and I tried to make the non-conference games tough for us so we would be prepared for the end of the season. It gave us confidence that we could play with the elite teams like that.”

The Red Devils, led by a host of juniors including four Courier News first-team performers, defeated Ridgewood for the North Group IV crown and Bridgewater-Raritan for the SCT title. They also knocked off rival North Hunterdon three times in 2014.

“Most of our juniors have been playing together on the varsity level for a few years now and moving forward to net year, they’re hungry to win. Sometimes they fade towards the end of the season, but this season, they were pushing themselves,” Erickson said. “They wanted to get better and they wanted to win.”

Girls Lacrosse Player of the Year: North Hunterdon’s Julia Wood

North Hunterdon's Julia Wood, the 2014 Courier News Player of the Year. Photo by: Jason Towlen

North Hunterdon’s Julia Wood, the 2014 Courier News Player of the Year. Photo by: Jason Towlen

When Julia Wood first started out in the girls lacrosse program at North Hunterdon High School four years ago, there was no way she thought she’d be a record-breaking midfielder that would go on to earn a Division I scholarship. But after 235 goals and 315 points in her four seasons with the Lions, Wood has earned both of those accomplishments with flying colors.

“Especially since my freshman campaign was not the best; I know it’s not all about goals, but I only had four of them,” Wood said. “But I think I’ve come a long way since then. I definitely didn’t expect all of this since freshman year.”

Wood, who netted 101 goals and 33 assists in leading North Hunterdon to a 19-4 record, a third straight Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament title and a berth in the North Group IV semifinals, is the Courier News Player of the Year.

“I’ve been lucky to coach her for the last four years and she’s one of those kids that she’ll take a hit and she’ll get right back up,” North Hunterdon head coach Stacy Ditze said.

This season, as the victories piled up, Wood eclipsed alumnus Alison Jaeger in two scoring categories in school history. With her 78th goal of the season on May 12, Wood passed Jaeger and her sister Caroline for the most goals in a single-season in school history, and when Wood notched goal No. 216, she went by Alison for most career goals for the Lions.

Wood was held to fewer than three goals only twice this season, and scored seven goals on three different occasions. But her finest moment may have come in the North Group IV quarterfinals, against Bridgewater-Raritan. Wood poured in seven goals and added two assists, lifting the Lions to an overtime victory and a third meeting of the year against rival Ridge.

“Honestly, I’ll of course remember the H/W/S Championships, but this year, our game against Bridgewater in states, when we went into overtime is the one I’ll always remember,” she said. “We came back, then they came back, they tied it up and we won in overtime and that game will always stick out to me.”

After registering just nine points as a freshman — she only appeared in seven games — Wood became a wrecking ball, scoring 70, 60 and this season 101 goals, vaulting her up the all-time record book at North Hunterdon. In what seemed like a simple advancement, Wood said she just got more comfortable with her teammates and on the field, which led to the higher scoring outputs and even more Lions’ victories.

“She came out confident as a freshman, in my eye,” Ditze said. “But for me, the thing she improved on most was her game-sense; she understood when to shoot or pass or hold the ball and she was able to lead us with that sense. She really came up clutch for us a lot and she’s an all-around player that did what it took for us to win.”

Next season Wood will be suiting up for the University of Louisville — a program that set a school-record for wins and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time — along with fellow Courier News first-teamer Jillian Balog. The bond they’ve shared since seventh grade, playing on T3 Lacrosse teams, is something Wood is really looking forward to continuing as collegians, even if she’ll be back at the bottom of the totem pole as a freshman, just as she was four seasons ago.

“I think going into next year, into a D-I program, I just need to remember that I am a freshman and even if I don’t play at all, I have to keep my confidence up and I think my turn will come with hard work,” Wood said. “Playing with Jillian is going to be great; I love playing with her. We went to camps together, so I’m really excited to play with her in college.”

Boys Lacrosse Coach of the Year: Westfield’s Pat Tuohy

As the season unfolded, the Westfield High School boys lacrosse team continued to chug away and keep focused on the goal that head coach Pat Tuohy laid out.

“Last year we made it to the sectional final and lost to Ridge, so we had that game on the radar all season,” Tuohy said. “That’s what we wanted to make it to and we had a tough time with our regular season schedule, but we just kept pushing towards the postseason. We wanted the one or two-seed, but we got the three-seed and it just set us up. You couldn’t have scripted it any better for us.”

Westfield took out defending state champion and second-seeded Ridge in the semifinals and then blasted top-seeded Bridgewater-Raritan for the title in Tuohy’s second year at the helm.

He is the Courier News Boys Lacrosse Coach of the Year.

“We wanted to just make sure that every year we’re getting better and beating Ridge in the sectional semifinals was huge for us,” Tuohy said. “Going in there, playing them at night on their turn, there was no panic in our group. They were calm and knew what too do and there were games when we’d lose badly, but the confidence of my group never wavered. They never thought they would lose and that’s what carried us through the postseason.”

Westfield would go on to beat Southern 10-6 for the Group IV state title, the school’s first state title since 1987.

Tuohy, a Westfield resident that volunteered with the program in between tours of duty in Iraq with the Marine Corps in the early 2000’s, before graduating from Roanoke College in 2006. He returned home to work with the JV team and eventually take over the top squad two seasons ago.

He’s seen the program grow to new heights under his leadership and Tuohy said she’s excited for the future of Westfield lacrosse. With a host of juniors and underclassmen coming back next season, expect the Blue Devils to continue moving up the ranks.

2014 Courier News All-Area Girls Lacrosse Team

The 2014 Courier News Girls Lacrosse 1st Team All-Area performers. Photo by: Jason Towlen

The 2014 Courier News Girls Lacrosse 1st Team All-Area performers. Photo by: Jason Towlen


Attack — Jillian Balog, New Providence, Sr.

Balog, the leading scorer in the history of New Providence girls lacrosse, scored 54 goals this year and finished with 183 for her career. She’ll play at Louisville next season.

Attack — Elizabeth Behrins, Ridge, Jr.

Behrins, one of two players for Ridge to total 95 points this season, netted 56 goals and a team-high 39 assists and registered 11 hat tricks this year.

Attack — Devon Brown, Ridge, Jr.

Brown posted 58 goals and added 37 assists, for a team-best 95 points. She netted 21 of her goals in postseason contests, including nine in the Somerset County Tournament.

Attack — Erika Cavallo, Hillsborough, Sr.

Cavallo netted 75 goals to go with 28 assists and finished her career with 208 goals and 260 points. She’ll play collegiately at Towson University next year.

Midfield — Allison Lane, North Hunterdon, Sr.

Lane, the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament MVP won 128 draws with her height advantage and totaled 90 goals and 119 points for the Lions and will play at Marquette.

Midfield — Ally Mastroianni, Bridgewater-Raritan, Fr.

Mastroianni burst onto the scene with 97 goals and 158 points, good for second-most in the state. The freshman phenom also controlled 133 draws for the youthful Panthers.

Midfield — Dakota Pastore, Somerville, Jr.

Pastore, who was the state’s second-leading scorer, has already set Somerville records. With 128 goals and 30 assists this year, she is up to 299 goals and 411 points for her career.

Midfield — Annie Pearson, Ridge, Jr.

Pearson, noted as Ridge’s unsung hero by coach Barbara Erickson, scored 29 goals, scooped up 86 groundballs, controlled 66 draws and forced 42 turnovers.

Midfield — Julia Wood, North Hunterdon, Sr.

Wood, the Courier News Player of the Year, broke multiple school records with a 101-goal, 32-assist campaign that pushed her points total to a North Hunterdon-best 312 in four seasons.

Defense — Lauren D’Amico, Westfield, Jr.

D’Amico helped lead Westfield to the brink of the Union County title, racking up 57 draw controls and matching up with opponent’s top-scorers.

Defense — Callie Dewitt, Ridge, Jr.

Dewitt a clutch lockdown defender for the Red Devils, anchored Ridge to the SCT title and a berth in the Group IV Final. She finished with 38 groundballs and 33 caused turnovers.

Defense — Emily Howarth, Bridgewater-Raritan, Jr.

Howarth won 48 draws and scored 12 goals to go with her usual steady defense, locking horns with No. 1 scorers and helping lead a very young Panthers squad.

Goalie — Madison Martino, North Hunterdon, Sr.

Martino averaged nearly eight saves per game and backstopped the Lions to the HWST title and the semifinals of the North IV tournament.

Goalie — Mallory Weisse, Westfield, Jr.

Weisse, a true anchor for the Blue Devils, made 578 saves as Westfield has turned its program around from 5-13 two years ago into a sleeping giant in Union County.

All-Area Player of the Year: Metuchen’s Cassie Smith

Cassie Smith of Metuchen has been named Home News Tribune All Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

Cassie Smith of Metuchen has been named Home News Tribune All Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

When Cassie Smith got to Metuchen High School four years ago, her main goal was to get to 1,000 career points. Midway through her junior season, that goal was obtained, but Smith didn’t stop there, embarking on an incredible senior campaign, becoming Metuchen’s all-time leader in career points — for boys or girls — along the way.

Smith averaged 27.9 points per game and led the state in both field goals and free throws made, helping Metuchen win the NJSIAA Central Group I Tournament. She is The Home News Tribune’s Player of the Year.

“I never thought that I’d set all of these records, considering I only set out to get to 1,000 career points, so as I saw the records adding up, it was a great feeling for me,” Smith said. “But I’ll remember winning the sectional title more than anything else.”

In the Bulldogs’ final game of the season, Smith passed Artie Flaherty in career points, giving her 2,062 for her illustrious career, to cap a year in which she surpassed former head coach Val Gazda to become the all-time leader for points scored by a schoolgirl in Metuchen history. Smith recorded 22 double-doubles in 29 games, averaging 13 rebounds per contest, and tied for the state-lead with 810 points scored. Her scoring average was the fifth-highest in the state.

She eclipsed 20 points in all by one game, scored 20 or more in 25 of 29 games, 30 or more in 13 different games and topped 40 points twice. Smith finished her career averaging 19.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per contest.

“She did so many things well,” Metuchen head coach Pat Mayo said. “She did it with humility and honor for her teammates. She was always encouraging her teammates to do better and when they did something well, she lauded them. It was one of the main reasons we were so successful.”

But as the records continued to pile up, Smith never focused on the numbers, instead keeping her eyes on the prize of winning the sectional tournament. She scored only 22 points in the final two games, both overtime victories over Shore and South River, but knew that her teammates would step up to deliver the crown.

“I just kept my eyes on the main goal to win the sectional,” she said. “It was exciting to win that game and the one before that in overtime; coach doesn’t like OT, but we liked to make it exciting.”

Smith’s entire season was exciting, as she adapted to playing for a new head coach in Mayo and upped her game all while facing constant double-teams and occasional triangle-and-two defenses.

“I don’t think I could have done anything I did this season without coach Mayo,” Smith said. “I owe it all to her; she was great in practices and in games and it helped having her this year.”

The Bentley University-bound star remained humble all season long, differing to teammates at times when her jump shot wasn’t going in, and she hopes that her name isn’t atop the record book forever.

“I hope someone works really hard and ends up breaking my records,” she said.

It won’t be easy, as Smith has set the bar incredibly high for any future Metuchen Bulldog to reach.

All-Area Coach of the Year: East Brunswick’s Keith Lane

When Keith Lane took over at East Brunswick High School before this season, he laid out four simple goals for his squad to reach.

They were to have good team chemistry, to play hard and compete in every game, defend from start to finish in those games, and to win the rebounding battle.

Never in his mind was a 12-win turnaround from the previous season to this, turning the Bears from a 5-20 squad to a 16-7 one. Along the way, East Brunswick scored a major upset victory at Piscataway and earned the top seed in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament.

Lane is The Home News Tribune’s Coach of the Year.

“This ride was outstanding for us,” Lane said. “As the season progressed, after we beat Piscataway, the girls really started to exceed my expectations that I had for them. Early on, I didn’t know what to expect in my first year, but I laid some building blocks from day one and we centered around building team chemistry and playing hard together. It paid off for us.”

The Bears opened their season 7-1, only dropping a decision to South Brunswick in the All-Brunswick Holiday Tournament Final, and after a loss to eventual Central Group IV champion Colts Neck, East Brunswick won seven of its next eight, with the win at Piscataway highlighting that stretch.

With first place in the division in their pockets, the Bears earned the No. 1 seed in the county tournament, eventually reaching the semifinals before bowing out to surging Bishop Ahr. But Lane never expected his team to get that kind of recognition that early in his head coaching career.

“To be honest, getting the No. 1 seed wasn’t even a thought. We focused more on taking each game one at a time. We wanted to focus on the effort we gave and we battled through the tough Red Division and things fell into place for us,” he said.

With a host of young players on the roster, including the sharp-shooting duo of juniors Dayna Sclafani and Julia Simoes, the future remains bright for Lane and the Bears going forward.

“I’m optimistic about the future, but we can’t relax. There are a lot of good players in this conference and we have to keep getting better,” Lane said. “There’s still a lot of work to do.”

2013-14 All-Area Teams

The 2013-14 Home News Tribune All-Area Girls Basketball team: (from left) Jacqueline Rodriguez (Sayreville), Cassie Smith (Metuchen), Erica Junquet (Monroe), Adreana Miller (Franklin), Kiki Bynes (Piscataway). Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

The 2013-14 Home News Tribune All-Area Girls Basketball team: (from left) Jacqueline Rodriguez (Sayreville), Cassie Smith (Metuchen), Erica Junquet (Monroe), Adreana Miller (Franklin), Kiki Bynes (Piscataway). Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan



Kiki Bynes Piscataway Sr.


Pisctataway’s do-it-all guard averaged 11.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.2 steals per game to lead the Chiefs to the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament title. Bynes averaged 12 points per game in the postseason.


Erica Junquet Monroe Jr.


The junior point guard gave Monroe real stabililty, averaging 13.4 points per game to go with 3.9 assists and 2.8 steals. Her ability to control the offense helped the Falcons win 22 games and reach the semifinals of both the GMCT and Central Group IV Tournament.


Adreana Miller Franklin Jr.


Miller averaged 14.9 points per game and 5.5 rebounds, shooting 37 percent from 3-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line for the North 2 Group IV champs and two-time Somerset County Tournament finalists.


Jackie Rodriguez Sayreville Sr.


Sayreville’s go-to scorer poured in 71 3-pointers and averaged 19.4 points per night, all while doing the majority of the ball-handling and being the main focus of the opposition’s defense. Rodriguez finished her career with 1,147 points.


Cassie Smith Metuchen Sr.


The Bentley University-bound star led the state in points scored, field goals and free throws made, while finishing fifth in the state in scoring average at 27.9. Smith recorded 22 double-doubles in 29 games and averaged 13 rebounds per contest.



Taylor Freeman J.F. Kennedy Sr.
Kate McLaughlin South Plainfield Sr.
Dayna Sclafani East Brunswick Jr.
Brianna Valdes Woodbridge Jr.
Jaeda Wildgoose Franklin Jr.



Lauren Barlow Bishop Ahr So.
Cindy Foresta Monroe Jr.
Alexandra Jackson Franklin Jr.
Jackie Siva-Harrison South Brunswick Sr.
Kendrea Williams Piscataway So.


COACH OF YEAR: Keith Lane, East Brunswick — First-year coach steered East Brunswick to a 16-7 record, one year after winning just five games. Bears earned the top seed in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament.

Honorable mention

Bishop Ahr: Brianna Foster, Jenna Harsh, Elle Cimilucca; Cardinal McCarrick: Brittany Clayton; Carteret: Courtney Hansen; Colonia: Madison Stanley; Dunellen: Jackie VonItter, Alyssa Buccino; East Brunswick: Allie Warren, Julia Simoes; East Brunswick Tech: Jodie Janas; Edison: Marisa Daniels, Maggie Johnson, Bianca Newsom; Franklin: Mary Trossi; Highland Park: Rachel Beyer; J.F. Kennedy: Jolie Tang, Rachel Andrejcak; J.P. Stevens: Molly Yelencsics, Kathy Tong, Rebecca DiSerio; Linden: NahQuasia Robinson, Keajah Hall; Metuchen: Lianne Cifrodelli; Middlesex: Tori Schweyher, Amanda Abate; Monroe: Erin Seppi, Demi Rousseau, Ashlyn Petersen, Nichole Tatte; Mother Seton:Lena Buccigrossi, Nikki Melie; New Brunswick: Destiny Potts; North Brunswick: Kyra Fox; Old Bridge: Taylor Torre, Amanda Carney; Perth Amboy: Desirae Rivera; Perth Amboy Tech: Yadeline Vargas; Piscataway: Taylor Nelson, Alliera McCoy, Kelsey Nugent; Piscataway Tech: Jasmin Patterson; Rahway: Ashley Spinks, Brianna Carr, Tolu Omole; Rutgers Prep: Olivia Dabney, Niki Metzel, Gabi Redden, Kendra Barat; Sayreville: Amanda Quintero; South Amboy: Amanda LaVigne; Shana Anderson; South Brunswick: Amber Brown; South River: Gabby Harris, Alyssa Barry; South Plainfield: Sarah Cargill, Yasmeen Mighty, Shannon Hughes; Spotswood: Ashley Pina; Timothy Christian: Hannah Saquian, Michaela Csorny; Wardlaw-Hartridge: Taylor Gerhart, Jessica Gural; Woodbridge: Brielle Bannister, Gabby Jones; Woodbridge Academy: Kiara Rodriguez.

Tavormina led Bishop Ahr to the top

Heading into the 2013 season, Bishop Ahr High School girls soccer coach Jim Tavormina knew that he had a solid group on his hands. What he did not know was that he’d be at the helm of the team that would capture the school’s first state championship, using a near-1000-minute scoreless streak in the regular season to set it up.

“Our defense just seemed to gel this season; the girls just worked hard and stayed with it and we had an exceptional group this year,” Tavormina said. “The girls do all the work and they make me look good.”

Bishop Ahr (17-2-2) shut out Immaculate Heart 1-0 in the Non-Public A State Final, adding the icing to the cake of a dominant season.

Tavormina is The Home News Tribune’s Girls Soccer Coach of the Year.

“It was huge for the girls and the program itself to win that game,” Tavormina said. “We went in there with a lot of confidence and the girls weren’t scared at all. It was their time.”

One of his four-year standouts, midfielder Alexa Povelaitis, said that Tavormina was a coach she loved playing for, not only because of the results on the field.

“He’s motivational for us and helps us to get through the doubt and uncertainty,” she said. “He makes us better and he’s always there for us when we may have a rough game.”

After allowing one goal in a 1-0 loss to Old Bridge on Sept. 10, the Trojans didn’t allow another ball to cross the goal line until the Greater Middlesex Conference semifinals against East Brunswick on Halloween.

But after that defeat, Bishop Ahr refused to lose again, going on a run for the ages through the state tournament. In the first two rounds, the Trojans needed penalty kicks to beat St. John Vianney and perennial state-power Pingry, and yet another shutout over Holy Cross put them into the Non-Public A State Final against IHA. Tavormina said that playing a non-conference game before the GMCT helped in his team’s preparation for their deep postseason run.

“We played Freehold Borough on Oct. 22 and beat them 1-0, and that was a big confidence boost for us towards the end of the season,” he said. “And we did penalty kicks every single practice, when the girls were nice and tired. Let’s face it: when you go into penalty kicks, it’s after 100 minutes and you’re dead tired, so we were pretty confident in those situations and we thought we’d have a good chance of winning every one of them.”

Tavormina, who is flanked by two assistant coaches during every game and practice, said that he couldn’t have done it without their help. Ernie Tenny, who’s been with Tavormina for all seven years at Bishop Ahr, and first-year coach Scott Laulette worked with the Trojans to get them prepared for anything they’d see this season.

“I’m so happy for the girls and the coaching staff and we did everything you can do in the summer to get prepared. Every day we worked together and we saw the girls grow from the beginning of the season; they played with more confidence and we kept it positive,” Tavormina said.