Game of the Year: Mainland Shocks Ocean City, NJ in Girls Soccer
OCEAN CITY — For nearly two years nobody could beat the Ocean City girls soccer team. The Red Raiders were enjoying a 45-game unbeaten streak in mid-October when rival Mainland came into Carey Stadium and ended that streak thanks to Camryn Dirkes tally as the buzzer sounded at the end of double overtime.
That gave the Mustangs a glimmer of hope that they could beat the Red Raiders when it mattered, in championship matches — until Ocean City returned the favor six days later with a 2-0 win over Mainland in the Cape-Atlantic League championship match.
But that victory on Oct. 12 had Mustangs coach Chris Meade believing that if his team played its best match of the year in the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals, got a little luck and some heroic performances, the Stangs could somehow knock Ocean City out of the playoffs. All Mainland needed was the right hero, at the right time.
Enter sophomore goalie Genevieve Morrison.
She made a huge save in the second overtime on a shot from Summer Reimet — the state’s leading scorer — and then stood on her head in the penalty kick shootout. Morrison made two gigantic saves in the PKs, and when Mainland’s fifth shooter — senior midfielder Alyssa Turner — converted with a shot into the lower-left corner past a diving Tori Vliet, the fifth-seeded Mustangs had done what seemed impossible. They beat Ocean City, 4-3, in the shootout to take down the No. 1 seed on its home field.
“I get really nervous and sometimes when a teammate looks you dead in the eye and says, ‘you’ve got this,’ it really brings you up. Sometimes it’s very hard for me when a game comes down to PKs because they are so difficult to stop. Stopping that first one gave me a lot of confidence. Even if my teammates missed one I felt like we could still win it,” said Morrison, who finished with 12 saves. “When you’re going into a game like this it’s hard to think about what the outcome is going to be, but I’m so happy we came out on top. I had a feeling Alyssa was going to make it because we’ve been practicing these for a while and I have so much trust in her.”
Turner actually changed her mind on where she would try to place her penalty kick because Vliet had nearly come up with a great save diving to her left on the previous shot, by Mainland’s Julia Kaes.
“I had a lot of confidence in Genevieve because shooting against her in practice is such a challenge, so I think we were really prepared. Knowing that if I missed the shootout would still go on was a big factor. I usually pick the same spot every time but I saw (Vliet) diving (to the right) so I switched it up a little bit, and that was nerve-wracking,” Turner said. “Right away I just wanted to run to my teammates and give them all a big hug. It’s surreal, to be honest. This says a lot about us as a team, that we could come out here and bounce back from being down 1-0. I think that shows a lot about everyone’s character.”
Ocean City (21-1-1) came into the game with perhaps this season’s state Player of the Year in Reimet, who had 61 goals and added her 62nd in the first half when drilled a shot into the lower-left corner from about 15 yards out with a little less than six minutes to go before halftime.
“I think they have proven they are not a one-player team. (Reimet) is a phenomenal player, but they have a lot of talent around her, so if you focus too much on her you lose touch on some other stuff and they can play right around you. The game plan was similar to the game we lost 2-0 (in the CAL final), I think (in that game) they made two pretty good plays, we goofed on a corner while they made a play on a corner, and Summer made some ridiculous plays. We knew, if we were going to stay in this game, we had to keep them to one goal or less. I think our defense was phenomenal today, first and foremost,” Meade said. “We talked at halftime about how Summer made a play. We had our opportunities in the first half just like they did; they made a play with their best player and we didn’t, so one of our troops was going to have to step up and make a play.”
The player who stepped up and made a play for Mainland (16-4-2) was none other than Kaes, a senior captain. In the 52nd minute, she took a pass from Emily Paytas and ripped a shot into the upper left corner from about 25 yards out.
“We had a fantastic overlapping run into a great feed with a beautiful shot,” Meade said. “That’s where Emily Paytas can be dangerous coming around as an outside back, she made a phenomenal pass to Julia in the middle. From there, I felt like the game was pretty much even. Both teams had chances and I think both teams got tired. There was a part of the second half when we had a little more juice and they were winded, but then we lost that.”
Neither team could find the back of the next in the next 48 minutes, setting up the dramatic PK finish. Dirkes, Sydney Kaes, and Julia Kaes all converted their kicks, as did Ocean City’s Reimet, Kasey McDonnell, and Joy Slimmer, setting up the final round. Morrison made a save, and Turner converted her kick to send Mainland into the championship game, where the fifth-seeded Mustangs will travel to No. 3 Lacey Township on Friday.
“Just pick your spot and find it, and trust your goalie because we have a damn good goalie. That’s kind of where we were. I don’t like to say too much because there is enough pressure on them. Just pick your spot and stay confident with where your spot is,” Meade said of his pre-shootout speech. “Tori is not only a fantastic goalkeeper but what a great kid she is. It’s a shame it comes down to this with two teams that fight this hard. I said to our athletic director before the game that it’s a shame somebody is going to have to walk out of here with a loss. Having four seniors take four of those five kicks, we felt pretty good going in, but you just have to cross your fingers.”
Meade said he had a ton of confidence in Morrison going into the shootout, even as she’s battling leg and hip soreness from the grind of a 22-game season.
“She’s been a warrior,” the coach said. “She’s working hard to getting back to being sort of healthy, but when it comes down to it, she can make some plays and save us. In front of her, they didn’t have to rely on her as much today because those back four played so well, and Ava (Tenaglia) marking Summer, she’s as tough as they come.”
“They are a great, competitive team, but so are we and it’s nice to play good teams like Ocean City and get that kind of challenge where you’re on your tippy-toes the whole game,” Morrison added. “It’s great to win a game like this.”
What’s next: Mainland at Lacey Township in the South Jersey Group 3 championship game on Friday, time TBD.