By Connor Iapoce
The women’s soccer team at County College of Morris performed strongly with a three-game winning streak at the start of their season, but these impressive wins were soon followed by a four-game losing streak before the Titans won again.
Their overall National Junior College Athletic Association record is 4-4 with a Region XIX record of 1-3 at presstime. Regardless, players and coaches are impressed with how the team is shaping up this year.
“I can’t fault their effort and determination and just their focus coming in that they want to get better every game,” said Roger Stephens, head coach of the Lady Titans. “I mean, that’s the key. If you have that kind of motivation, you’re just going to get better.”
Stephens, the assistant director of athletics at CCM and a veteran coach in his 25th season with the soccer program, is supported in turn by a staff of three newcomers in their first season on the team, consisting of assistant coach Vincent Catizone, assistant coach Alex Katz, and assistant coach Vincenzo Bernardo. The team also has two student assistants, Taylor Fehnel and Zabrina Gale whose two-seasons limits imposed by NJCAA expired last year, in their first year with this role.
“I mean, the real key to success is just, number one, you want to get the best staff you can,” Stephens said. “Number two, it’s all about recruiting at the college level. If you’re not getting out beating the bushes all the time, you’re not going to get those extra players from different schools. The other part of it is just the preparation and the professionalism that I think our staff brings everyday to practices and games.”
The Lady Titans have an impressive roster consisting of eight returners and nine rookie players. They are led by three sophomore captains, Amanda Lawrence, Stephanie Williams, and returning captain Raenna Cope.
“Being a Titan gives you purpose,” said Raenna Cope, a sophomore business administration major and center back captain. “It’s not like just coming to school and going home, it’s like a whole other family.”
Freshman striker Samantha Corrales is the team’s leading scorer with 11 goals and one assist for a total of 19 points at presstime. She recorded a hat trick in her team’s 4-1 win against Mercer County Community College Wednesday, Oct. 4.
“Another key is our leading scorer Samantha Corrales, who got [Garden State Athletic Conference] player of the week the second week of the season, which is phenomenal when you consider there are teams in the region,” Stephens said. “We also have three first-year all-region players who are returning this year, so hopefully they have a second shot at it.”
The season started strong during the home opener against Cumberland County College Saturday, Sept. 2. The match was a high scoring offensive win for the Titans with a final score of 7-1.
Defense would subsequently prove to be a strong factor in the success of the Titans, during a series of four away games in the schedule.
The following two games played were both strong defensive wins, including two impressive shutouts for sophomore goalkeeper Kayla Beal.
Beal averaged 1.7 goals per game at presstime. The Lady Titans average 1.86 goals per game, according to NJCAA statistics.
A 1-0 win Saturday, Sept. 9 against Bucks County Community College was followed by a 3-0 win against Middlesex County College Thursday, Sept. 14.
Bernardo is new to the organization, but he is no stranger to the sport of soccer, having played professionally in Italy and Guatemala. Bernardo said he is still growing into his role in the new environment, but he is impressed with his team’s players’ own growth both on and off the field and is excited for what is to come at the end of the season.
“My prediction is obviously just to play good soccer every game that we have,” Bernardo said about his predictions for the season’s outcome. “We obviously want to win; we want to be competitive, so that’s always the goal. But the short term goal is to get better each practice and win each game that is coming up.”
An away loss of 0-1 at Rowan College at Gloucester County Saturday, Sept. 16 was followed the next week by an away loss of 0-1 at Sussex County Community College Thursday, Sept. 21.
“I think we can do great things,” said Lawrence, a sophomore human services major and outside left midfielder. “I think we are kinda at a little standstill right now, but once we get our heads back into it, I think we can go pretty far. We have great potential.”
The biggest deficit for the Titans this season came against Essex County College with a 1-7 away loss Tuesday, Sept. 26. Stephens referred to this game as a blip in their performance, not a result of lack of team effort or determination.
The latest game for the Lady Titans was a double overtime loss against Rowan College at Burlington County. The score was 1-1 through regular play after a goal by Lawrence in the 82nd minute to tie up the match. The Lady Titans would allow no goals through the first overtime but trailed after a game-winning goal for RCBC in the second overtime, making the final score 1-2.
The Lady Titans are focused on improvement both on and off the field. Stephens said the players regularly condition in the weight room to improve their fitness. The captains emphasized the importance of communication in a game setting.
“The key to success is communication,” Lawrence said. “Being on the same page with the girls, especially having a deep team bond.”
“I would say, finding each other on the field is a key to success,” Cope said.
The captains say the team is close-knit and bond outside of school, which helps them find success on the field. A Titan is more than just a competitive player on the soccer field.
“Being a Titan makes you want to be successful, because you know, you have your name to it,” Lawrence said. “You’re associated with the school; you’re associated with yourself, and you want to win. You want to do good things.”
The coaching staff’s ultimate goal this season is to reach the NJCAA regional tournament.
“Ideally the focus is always to get to the region tournament and beyond,” Stephens said. “Then, the bottom line is you’ve just gotta get focused and get better every game and every day you step on the field, whether it is practice or a game.”
The Lady Titans’ next home game is at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12 against Raritan Valley Community College.