Freshman Noelle Sarafian made 14 saves to help River Dell hand Westwood its first loss of the season, 8-7, on Thursday afternoon in Oradell.
ORADELL – Coming into the 2018 season, the River Dell girls lacrosse team figured to have some growing pains with a lot of new faces in new places, so there was no panic when the Golden Hawks opened with three straight losses. Once the players meshed and started to get a feel for how to play as a team, the hope was that the wins would follow.
Now, two weeks in, things are starting to go as planned. For the second time in as many games River Dell knocked off a previously undefeated opponent. First it was a win over West Milford and then it was Teri Manzelli’s game-winner with 3:16 to play that pushed the Golden Hawks to an 8-7 upset over Westwood on Thursday afternoon in Oradell.
“This win really means a lot to us, especially with it being over a rival like Westwood,” said Manzelli. “We knew this was a bit of a rebuilding year losing so many seniors. We can’t control everything that goes on in a game but we can control our effort. That was something we’ve really been focusing on every practice and every game. We’re now starting to see that effort pay off.”
Westwood opened the scoring early on a goal by Sarah Levy. That lead would be the only one of the game for the Cardinals with River Dell bouncing back quickly with an equalizing goal from Shannon Hughes.
Sarah Levy scored two goals for Westwood, which fell to 5-1 in the season.
That seemed to be what the Hawks needed as they controlled the tempo for most of the first half from that point on. Manzelli slithered her way through the Cardinal defense and scored to put the Hawks in front. Isabella DiGennaro scored on a free position and Manzelli tallied another goal to make it a three-goal advantage.
After struggling to get in gear, the Cardinals started to run their offense with precision late in the final minutes of the first half. Neeve Twomey scored and Meghan Riedel also found the back of the net off of a feed from Samantha Moleti to trim the Hawks’ lead to 4-3 by halftime.
With the way Westwood has been scoring (13.6 goals per game) coming into this game and having grabbed the momentum, it looked like the Cardinals were about to take control. The Hawks kept their poise and built their lead back up to three on goals from Manzelli and DiGennaro.
“I thought we had a chance to make something happen to start the second half but we didn’t push hard enough on draws,” said Westwood head coach Jim Montegari. “For most of the game we weren’t patient enough offensively and even when we did their goalie came up with some huge saves that didn’t let us get over that hump and take the lead.”
River Dell was able to maintain its lead thanks in large part to an unlikely source. At this time last year Noelle Sarafian was in eighth grade and had never picked up a lacrosse stick. Now she is River Dell’s starting goaltender and came up with one big save after another to keep the high-scoring Cardinals at bay.
Jaclyn McCusker played well on both ends of the field for River Dell, which has now won two straight games after three consecutive losses to start the season.
Westwood kept fighting and cut its deficit to one on a nice individual effort from senior attack Lexi Santise. She collected a loose ball behind the net and came all the way around to score through traffic in front of the net with 4:18 to play. Just 38 seconds later, Levy ripped a shot home from point-blank range to tie the game at 7.
Winning draws was a strength for the Hawks all afternoon. After Westwood’s tying goal, Manzelli came up with the ensuing draw and weaved her way through traffic before bouncing a shot home with 3:16 left to put River Dell ahead to stay, 8-7.
Sarafian came up with another huge save late and the Hawks took possession with just over two minutes remaining. Led by Teri Manzelli, her sister Jayne, and Jaclyn McCusker, they were able to maintain possession right until the final buzzer sounded before rushing to congratulate Sarafian and their teammates on a big win.
“My coaches and my teammates have been so supportive and that’s really given me the confidence that I can play well,” said Sarafian. “Our defense helped me out a lot. I just tried to keep it simple and stay in front of everything.”
Teri Manzelli, a junior middie, netted a career-high five goals and Sarafian notched 14 saves to lead River Dell (2-3). McCusker had a solid all-around effort on both ends of the field. Levy had two goals and two assists for Westwood (5-1). Santise and Twomey added two goals apiece.
Now, with two impressive wins under their belts, the Hawks hope that this is just the start of a winning streak that can carry them to a successful season.
“It comes down to grit and wanting to succeed by winning those draws and 50-50 balls,” said River Dell head coach Jessica Rickershauser. “We’ve been talking a lot about game management and I think that showed up today with the patience we showed. It’s easy to be panicked in a pressure situation. We wanted to control the pace and we got good play in every phase of the game. If we stay motivated and execute our gameplan as well as we did today we feel like we can become a team that wins these types of games more often.”