Wayne Valley goes from also-ran to contender on opening day

Amelia Vacca earned a shutout that included this save on a penalty stroke as Wayne Valley opened the season with a 2-0 victory over defending Passaic County champion Lakeland on Tuesday in Wayne.

WAYNE – Over the past few years Wayne Valley has been in a bunch of close games against top teams throughout North Jersey, but has often ended up on the wrong end of the final score and the Indians have not been much of a factor in contending for county titles. Squaring off against defending Passaic County champion Lakeland in the season-opener Wayne Valley put the rest of the county on notice that this year's race for a county championship may be more wide open than ever.

After withstanding an early onslaught, the Indians went on the attack and it paid dividends. Ashley Zarb assisted on late first-half goal and added one of her own early in the second half. Amelia Vacca pitched a shutout that included a save on a second-half penalty stroke as Wayne Valley went from also-ran to title contender in one day with a 2-0 upset over Lakeland on Tuesday afternoon on the brand new turf Wayne.

“This feels great and this gives us a lot of confidence,” said Zarb. “We definitely have a lot to work on and we've got to finish better. Our team lost three key players from last year but we have to focus on who we have now and what we can do this year.”

Right from the opening whistle it looked it would be all Lakeland, all day. The Lancers possessed the ball in the Indians' end of the field for the first 15 minutes of the game. That resulted in seven corners, but no goals thanks to a rock solid defensive effort and some timely saves from Vacca.

Keira Marks, Lakeland's first team all county senior, had some of the Lancers' best scoring chances.

After struggling to just clear their defensive circle initially, the Indians switched up their tactics and started to possess the ball out of the back. It was at that point where the momentum shifted and it culminated with a goal off of a counter attack with Zarb carrying the ball towards the top of the circle before feeding Joanna Liput at the right post. The forward tucked it home with just 1:45 left in the half to give Wayne Valley the lead and a belief going into the second half that this was a game they could win.

The halftime intermission did not slow down the Indians. Off of a corner the ball came all the way across to Alyssa Sherry. She sent the ball back across the goalmouth and Zarb one-timed into the back of the cage for a 2-0 lead with 24:59 to play.

“Our coaches always get on us to shoot early, so when I saw the ball coming towards I had to get that shot off quickly,” added Zarb. “We felt a little stuck at the beginning of the game because they were always in our end of the field. Once we started moving the ball and using the whole field everything opened up for us.”

Cara Scancarella and the Lakeland defense allowed just one second half shot in posting the shutout.

Lakeland pushed hard to get back in the game and had an opportunity to do so after earning a penalty stroke with 11:11 left. All-County senior Keira Marks stepped up to take the stroke and got good pace behind it. Vacca (12 saves) reacted well though, diving to her right and knocking the ball down with her blocker to keep the Lancers off the scoreboard.

“I was just trying to watch the ball and react to it as well as I could,” said Vacca. “It's about just turning your mind off and not over thinking it, just focus on the ball.”

Thanks to stellar efforts from Cara Scancarella and Rachael Weinstein in the defensive third of the field, the Indians faced just one shot the rest of the way to earn a huge confidence boost to start the season.

“I thought we played with a lot of fire and we showed today that we can play with anybody. Now we have to give this kind of effort every game and prove that we can make a run at winning counties.”