Old Tappan is on the up-swing after win over Passaic Tech

Junior Brandon Siegenthaler needed 100 pitches even to go the distance on a 7-hitter as Pascak Hills improved to 6-1 in the season with a 6-1 win at Demarest.

OLD TAPPAN – Building a program in an up-and-coming sport is not easy. On the girls lacrosse landscape in North Jersey you have the bell-cow in Ridgewood, a legitimate state power that competes for Tournament of Champions titles seemingly every season. There are the established programs like Ramapo, Northern Highlands, IHA and others that are perennial state tournament teams and below that are a bunch of programs trying to get established by playing younger players, building feeder systems and hoping that the efforts eventually take root on the varsity level.

Old Tappan is one of those programs trying to gain a foothold. With just two seniors on the roster and a first-year head coach, the Golden Knights are a work in progress…but there has been progress.

Old Tappan scored the game’s first goal in the third minute and never trailed over the 50 minutes of play in an 11-6 victory over Passaic Tech on Wednesday, a win that pulled the Knights back close to .500 at 3-4 on the season with a favorable schedule ahead.

“I think we are at past the starting point, but not that far past it. Last year we finished last in our league and the goal for this year is to get to the middle, to get to the point where we compete every time we go out there. We are starting to play more physical, we are playing smarter, we are moving the ball better and we are getting there,” said Frank Rotella, who was the JV coach for four years before moving up to the head coaching spot. “We have a young squad. We only have two seniors (Sara Fishbein and Jordan DeCrescente), but we have strong junior class. Emily Walker, Casey Rochford and Cara Schettino are juniors, but they all played last year and they are really helping us out.”

Old Tappan was coming off an excruciating loss to Westwood in which it gave up the tying goal in the final minute of the second half before losing in overtime. While the loss hurt, it was another example of how the Knights are gaining ground in terms of terms of their play on the field. Yes, it could have been a win which would have given them a three-game winning streak, but instead it was another example of how far the Knights have come.

“We have been working on the things that we have to improve on and in the last few games it has been working out. We have been playing better than we were at the beginning of the season and we know what has made the difference,” said NV/OT midfielder Sam Helfman. “We have been better at winning 50/50 balls and we have been more aggressive. On Monday against Westwood we played hard and we were so close to winning that we got more confidence because we played a good game. We’ve been better at ground balls, more checks and things like that are helping us.”

Walker’s goal with 12:20 left in the first half and Rochford’s goal 35 seconds later gave Old Tappan a 5-0 lead against Passaic Tech before the Bulldogs got on the board. Emily Vander May swooped in from the right of Old Tappan keeper Cassandra McGowan and scored with just over 10 minutes to go in the opening half. The Knights held a 7-2 lead at the half and never let Passaic Tech get closer than four goals the rest of the way.

Vander May (3 goals), Alexa Stoepler (2 goals) and Emily Duval combined to score all six of the goals for Passaic Tech, which fell to 2-5 on the season. Samantha Derrico and Rochford scored a team-high three goals for each for Old Tappan, Walker tallied twice and Helfman, Avery Linder and Emily Derrico each scored one goal for the Knights. Fishbein and Emily Gullestad each added assists.

With games against Bergen Tech and Saddle Brook next up the schedule, Old Tappan can make a push to get back over .500 for the year and keep the momentum building for the program.

“We are a really young team, so as the season has gone along we have grown with every game. We started off the season with two straight losses against two tough opponents and, honestly, I think that was the best thing for us,” said Rochford. “It showed us what we had to work on and every game since Coach reminds of those things. We have to be more aggressive and when we do it, it pays off like it did today for us.”