Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Unfamiliar Role Is Fine

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Unfamiliar Role Is Fine

Article excerpt

SCOTCH PLAINS - Northern Highlands girls soccer may have found out more about itself after a loss last season than it did in any of the previous 88 games leading up to it.

After the Highlanders' state record 88-game unbeaten streak came to a screeching halt in a Bergen County final loss to Immaculate Heart, coach Tara Madigan looked at her players and had one simple question.

"I asked them, 'Which direction are you going to go?' " Madigan said Wednesday after Highlands' first scrimmage of this season, a 5- 0 win over 2014 Group 4 semifinalist Scotch Plains-Fanwood. It featured a balanced attack, with goals from Eva Hurm, Joanna Kelly, Casey Richards, Amy Harris and Ariel Somple.

"They could have felt sorry for themselves or they could have used it as motivation," Madigan said. "We ended up playing our best soccer after that - and that says something about the resiliency of this group. They said, 'Fine, we might have lost the county final, but we're going to win another state title.' "

They did so in commanding fashion, outscoring their opponents, 20- 0, in six tournament games en route to their fourth straight Group 3 state title.

Gone now are the pressures of maintaining "The Streak," but returning are the same lofty expectations that have become an annual tradition under Madigan.

Richards, the team's unquestioned facilitator at midfield and who supplied a team-best 18 assists last year, said not having to worry about the streak any longer is "pretty nice, actually." On Wednesday, she scored a goal and hit the post twice.

There's a different feeling in Allendale this preseason - Madigan called it "more relaxed" - with an experienced and talent-laden roster featuring nine seniors, most notably the Georgetown-bound Richards, Fordham-bound Morgan Busacca and Siena-bound Somple, who put on a show at forward in the scrimmage with a goal and two assists.

Many of the seniors, some with two or three years of varsity experience, never have experienced an August before when Highlands wasn't considered the preseason No. 1 team in the state.

That distinction belongs to IHA, the reigning national champion - - according a nationwide coaches association -- and the coaches' preseason No. …

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