The Gloucester County Institute of Technology girls' soccer team broke through in 2013, finally winning the New Jersey Technical Athletic Conference Tournament title for the first time in the program's 11-year history.
The Cheetahs had less trouble repeating the feat this year, cruising past their three opponents by a combined score of 19-1 including a 4-1 triumph over Bergen Tech in the final Monday. First-year coach Alicia Kavlunas noted the game was closer than that score.
“It was pretty evenly matched,” she said. “The second half we came out composed, we wanted to win. The wind was so strong, and we knew we had to play against the wind in the first half. We knew if we could hang around, it would be easier in the second half. They scored, but we held them after that. We were able to take advantage of it, and I think Bergen struggled playing against the wind.”
Much like last season, they've found success on the pitch with a wide variety and depth of scorers. They never had fewer than four goal scorers in any game, and no player scored more than two goals in a tech tournament game.
Sophomore Gabrielle Fanfarillo leads the team with just nine goals, with junior Madison Devine adding eight and sophomore Camryn Tirado seven. Three other players have netted six each – freshman Jessica Beck and seniors Breanna Federico and Cheyenne Zubec. The youth was partly planned, but partly by necessity.
“We have a significant number of sophomores and juniors that have started this season,” said Kavlunas, a 2005 Clearview graduate whose previous coaching experience was a year while she was finishing up at Rowan. “We had three ACL injuries to starters this year, and that put us back. But other players have stepped up.
“I think the girls work well together, a few play travel ball together so they're acclimated. Familiarity is obviously to their advantage. We have a few players that can put the ball away.”
Despite not having any double-digit scorers, GCIT has increased its scoring while also giving up fewer goals. The records haven't improved as much as the team would probably like – from 7-14 in 2012 to 8-11 last year and 9-11 this season – but the signs are there that the team is becoming comfortable in both Group III and the big-school Tri-County Conference Royal Division.
In 2013, the Cheetahs lost five games by a single goal. This year they dropped six games by just one score, all of them against Royal opponents except for the last – a 4-3 decision at eighth-seeded Central Regional in the opening round of the South Jersey playoffs Tuesday.
With so much youth seeing the field this year, Kavlunas expects to have eight returning starters next season with current sophomore Claudia Pinizzotto who suffered one of the ACL injuries. Combined with the confidence provided by a second straight NJTAC title and better play in the Royal, GCIT may be poised to turn a corner in 2015.
“The talent is definitely there,” Kavlunas said. “The girls put in a lot of work in the offseason, I can't take a lot of credit. I expect us to win more in our division. We lost to a team that's one of the best teams in the state by one goal at their field (a 3-2 loss to Williamstown Oct. 28). That says a lot.”
A HELPING HAND
At halftime of the girls' final of the South Jersey Soccer Coaches Association Tournament Sunday afternoon, Jade DiSanti walked to midfield.
It was an achievement for the 13-year-old Pennsauken resident, and it was for a very good reason.
Just under six months ago, DiSanti – playing club soccer for the Delran Dynamite – suffered a torn ACL. When she underwent surgery in early June, there were complications. DiSanti wound up going through four surgeries in a week, only to be told that the only way to save her life was to amputate her leg above the knee.
“Especially in this day and age when ACLs are so prevalent, it's almost like (a normal event),” said Bill Mulvihill, Moorestown girls' coach and SJSCA president. “I've never heard anything like this in all my years around sports.
“I heard about it reading it in a newspaper and through the soccer community. It just so happened that we were having our reorganization meeting in August, and we're always looking for ways to give back to the South Jersey soccer community. It came up that we would raise money to give her a check for her foundation.”
The SJSCA presented DiSanti and her father, Mike, with a check for $500 to aid her rehabilitation fund. The organization raises money to offer scholarships based on applicants, through fees teams pay to be in the association as well as entry fees charged for the tournament semifinals and finals.
“When you see a girl go through something like that and be able to keep her spirits so high through it, she's just an inspiration for all young people,” Mulvihill said. “You just go on and make the best of it, and that's what this young lady is doing. It was so good to see her actually walk out onto the field. It was great to be able to give her and her dad the donation.”
A CENTURY OF SCORING
With the opening score of Delsea's first-round South Jersey Group III playoff game against Cherry Hill West Tuesday, senior striker Tori Miller notched her 100th career goal with the Crusaders. She added a second goal – plus an assist – to give her 39 goals on the year and 101 for her standout four-year career.
Maybe they caught a glimpse of the future as well in the game, as sophomore Kacey Scaffo added a hat trick to complete top-seeded Delsea's 5-0 victory over the No. 16 Lions. The Crusaders will next get a visit from No. 8 Central Regional.
Here's a rundown of some of the division races not already covered in previous notebooks now that the playoffs have begun.
Eastern may have fallen in the Coaches Tournament final, but the Vikings edged Lenape for the Olympic Conference American Division title. Timber Creek captured the Olympic National.
Ocean City went unbeaten with two ties to take the Cape-Atlantic American, while after noting the potential a couple of weeks ago Lower Cape May and Middle Township shared the Cape National.
As noted before, West Deptford claimed the Colonial Liberty, and Haddon Heights the Colonial Patriot. In the Tri-County Conference, Williamstown won the Royal Division, Delsea the Diamond and Gloucester Catholic the Classic.
Scott Chappelear covers girls soccer for South Jersey Sports Digest. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @srchappie.