It took a shot from deep outside the box from sophomore midfielder Chisom Onyewuenyi in order for the Montclair State University women’s soccer team to win their first New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) championship since 2014. Head coach Patrick Naugter and his team achieved this feat while having a stellar 5-0-2 record.
This championship came after a 1-0 win over the Rutgers-Camden Raptors at RU-Camden Community Park. The top-seeded Scarlet Raptors came into the game sitting at 5-0-1. The only team they had not beaten was the Red Hawks, as that game ended in a 0-0 tie earlier this season.
The lone goal in their 200 minutes of season play against one another was the game-winner by Onyewuenyi. Both of these teams have matched up well all year long, and this game was no different.
In the end, it was a team not built around one player, but a whole team effort in the Red Hawks who took home the championship.
Senior captain and defender Catherine Carnevale won her first NJAC championship in her four years of being a Red Hawk. She knew this team was bound for greatness.
“I feel like on and off the field everyone has a role and they know that which I think makes us one of the best teams,” Carnevale said. “This year we are so close and I think that’s what makes a good team on the field, we are playing for each other.”
The team needed to be on the same page more than ever this season, which showed how the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic affected everything. The team started practicing in the fall not knowing when they would play. Naughter knew the difficulties and knew how special of a group this year was.
Knowing so many other schools around the country were missing out on competing, the Red Hawks took full advantage of the opportunity, exceeding all expectations. All year long this team was above the rest, whether it be each individual game or overall in the NJAC.
They won every game in terms of shots, getting a total of 145 and only allowing 35 from their opponents. Both statistics lead the conference in their respective categories. This included a great play from freshman midfielder Aileen Cahill, who was named NJAC Rookie of the Week twice this season.
The Red Hawks also went on to sweep all NJAC team honors. Cahill secured the Rookie of the Year and finished on the all NJAC second team.
Senior Phoebe Bledsoe won Goalie of the Year, Carnevale won Midfielder of the Year, sophomore forward Sofia Ambrosio won Offensive Player of the Year and junior defender Lexington Wolf finished with Defensive Player of the Year honors. All three of these players were All-NJAC first team, alongside junior defender Laura Noseworthy and junior midfielder and captain Emily Degeyter. Closing out the awards was Naughter, who won his back-to-back NJAC Coach of the Year and his fourth all-time.
These awards only signified the type of leaders that are on this team, with both captains earning first-team honors and Bledsoe being named Goalie of the Year. As a leader, Bledsoe knew exactly how to motivate one another to play for each other.
“I’m playing for every single one of you on this field, on the bench, in this program. This is for us,” Bledsoe said to her teammates in the huddle right before the second half of the championship game.
By winning the NJAC championship season, it marks the program’s fourth conference championship in school history. As for Naughter, this is his third title in 11 seasons at Montclair State.
“It feels awesome to win it, this group has been great the entire year,” Naughter said. “There were a lot of [starting and stopping of play]. We didn’t know when we would play. I couldn’t have asked for more from these kids. They are resilient.”
With the extra year of eligibility, a couple of faces from this year’s team will return. Carnevale will be using her extra year of eligibility and senior goalkeeper Nicole Carbone will be coming back as a coach in the fall. Naughter could not be more proud as he always spoke highly of Carbone on and off the field.
“She’s hired,” Naughter said in response to Carbone wanting to become a coach in the fall. “People don’t realize she is one of the most important people to ever be in this program.”
This team will hopefully return in the fall barring any setback with the COVID-19 pandemic still looming. The quick turnaround does offer little time for off-season training, with the fall season only 4-5 months away. However, with so many players returning next season, the future is looking bright for the women’s soccer team.