A ll that was left for head coach Katie Miller to do was admire what unfolded on the soccer pitch. Her Brookdale Community College women’s soccer team played flawlessly, just as she had envisioned all year.
In the semifinals of the National Junior College Athletic Association’s (NJCAA) Division III National Championship Tournament at Ocean County College in Toms River, the Jersey Blues, who looked to make junior college women’s soccer history, turned in their greatest performance of the season against SUNY Broome Community College.
“The team truly came together on Nov. 13,” she said about the semifinals game. “They played the way I wanted them to play all year.
“Everybody had a part in it. We owned the midfield. We won every 50/50. No one gave up on anything. The defense was great. [Goalkeeper] Marti [Stewart] made a huge save. Broome didn’t know how to mark us. It was a team effort through and through.”
Stewart (Marlboro), who had the best seat on the field, agreed with her coach’s assessment of the game.
“It was exactly the way coach Miller wanted us to play,” she said. “Everybody played their best game. It was great seeing them attack everything.”
Ashley Cafarella (Old Bridge) and Brianna Penix (Ocean Township) led the midfield charge that owned the 50/50 balls. The defense really clicked in Toms River with sweeper Michelle Montefinese (Monmouth Regional), stopper Colleen Branagan (Matawan), Meredith Parleman (Middletown North) and Alexandra Montefinese (Monmouth Regional) clearing everything, and what did get through was smothered by Stewart. The Jersey Blues did not allow a single goal in the tournament.
Speedy Heather Arbachesky (Wall) and Aubrey Jones (Manasquan) were the players Broome didn’t know how to mark.
Brookdale won that game, 3-0, and carried its near-perfect play over to the championship match Nov. 15 against Oxford College of Emory University.
A header off a corner kick in the 74th minute was all the Jersey Blues needed to win the match, 1-0, and capture a record-setting third consecutive national championship — an unprecedented achievement in junior college women’s soccer.
“That’s ridiculous,” Miller said. “I’m so proud of this team. They never gave up on each other.
“They’re such a close team. This team made a commitment back in August, and it’s great to see their hard work rewarded.”
Stewart, a sophomore who picked up her second national championship ring to go with last year’s, said the team was motivated by the opportunity it had to make history.
“That drove us,” she said. “There was so much to play for.”
Stewart said she had two different sets of emotions for the back-to-back championships.
“Last year, I was shocked,” she said. “I could not believe I was on a national championship team.
“I felt proud this year of what we accomplished.”
Fittingly, the championship-winning goal came off a play the Jersey Blues spend a lot of time working on: corner kicks.
Miller spends the early practices in the summer looking to see which players are aggressive going up for the ball. They’re the ones who will be placed in front of the goal. She then looks to her midfielders to see the players best suited to make the long kick.
Once the pieces are put together, they practice.
“We work so hard [in matches] in getting corners,” Miller said. In the national finals, the recently inserted Simone McEnough (Neptune) rose to the occasion and delivered the game-winning goal, heading in a serve off the foot of Amanda Karabin (Wall).
“What a game-changer,” Miller said of McEnough. “Simone is very aggressive in the box.”
This was McEnough’s second championship ring as well. She was there for the first of the trio of titles in 2013. As a member of the National Guard Reserves, she was overseas last year, missing the 2014 season. She returned this fall and was indeed a difference-maker.
A corner kick figured prominently in the national semifinals. Cafarella score the first of her two goals off Karabin’s corner kick.
Arbachesky notched the second goal of the game before Cafarella closed out the scoring.
Weather gave the Jersey Blue the opportunity to prove they are adaptable and can play in any condition.
In the tournament opener Nov 12, the game was played in the rain on a slick turf field — the great equalizer. The match with Suffolk County Community College was scoreless through regulation, with Brookdale winning on Aubrey Jones’ goal in the second overtime, 1-0.
The semifinals against Broome were played in a strong breeze, but that didn’t prevent the Jersey Blues from dominating play or playing the possession game.
The sun was out for the finals and shined on the three-time champions.
Brookdale players swept the tournament awards. Cafarella was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, McEnough earned Offensive Player of the Tournament honors and Stewart took Defensive Player of the Tournament. Those three and Arbachesky were All-Tournament Team picks. Miller was the Coach of the Tournament.
What Miller said she will remember most about the 2015 Jersey Blues, who were 19-1, was that the team never gave up.
“They came together in such a way,” the coach said.
With their third title, the women’s soccer team tied Bo Scannapieco’s softball team for the most national championships at the school. What makes what the Jersey Blues did this year so unique, as Miller noted, is that it’s a whole new team each year.
Junior colleges don’t have the luxury of having players around for three or four years. It’s not easy gel in a couple of months, but Miller has been able to do that with the Jersey Blues.
The players on the Jersey Blues’ national championship team were Stewart, Jones, Clare Begley (Mater Dei), Alexandria Montefinese, Penix, Arbachesky, Parleman, Melissa Montelone (Manchester Township), McEnough, Brittney Ramsey (Manasquan), Michelle Montefinese, Karabin, Endila Radoncic (Matawan), Kaitlin Koterba (Neptune), Branagan and Bianca DiBlasio (Shore Regional).
Sara Shaughnessy and Nil Onder are Miller’s assistants, and Pete Fusco is the team’s athletic trainer.