Moorestown tops Ridgewood for T of C title

Kacey Knobloch scored three of her four goals in the final 10 minutes as Moorestown pulled away late for a 14-9 victory over Ridgewood for a record seventh Tournament of Champions title.

UNION – High school girls’ lacrosse has rapidly grown over the past decade and there are two programs that are at the forefront of that movement. Since the inception of Tournament of Champions in 2007 Moorestown and Ridgewood have been the gold standard that the rest of New Jersey is trying to measure up to. Over the first eight years of the T of C either one of those two teams has won every championship, but in the past three seasons neither has hoisted the trophy on the final day of the season. So when they faced off on Saturday in the Tournament of Champions final, both teams pulled out all the stops for the right to be called the No. 1 team in New Jersey.

Kacey Knobloch scored three of her four goals in the final 10 minutes as Moorestown pulled away late for a 14-9 victory over Ridgewood for a record seventh Tournament of Champions title at Kean University in Union.

“Defense wins championships and we’ve built our team around our defense,” said Moorestown head coach Deanna Knobloch. “We had to force some turnovers and set the tone. It starts with fire and having to want the ball. Our communication was great all game and our senior class really carried us. We are extremely proud of the legacy we’ve created at Moorestown and we wanted to add to that legacy today.”

Moorestown took control early with three straight goals. It is something the Quakers normally do on their way to easy wins. Ridgewood was undaunted by the deficit and needed just 62 seconds to close the gap. Nicole Macolino got the Maroons on the scoreboard first before hitting a cutting Marley Scala for another goal. Virginia-bound Lillie Kloak capped the spurt with a side-armed low-to-high rip into the upper corner to knot the score at 3.

Jackie Wolak had four goals and an assist for Ridgewood, which finished its season with a 22-4 record.

The Quakers regained control in the latter portion of the first half by moving the ball quickly and being more methodical with their shot selection. Robin Panzarella scored a huge goal with 1.8 seconds left in the half to give Moorestown a 7-4 lead.

Behind the torrid play of junior Jackie Wolak the Maroons made another run. The junior middie, a transfer from Saddle River Day, was a difficult mark all game long. She knifed through the pressure man-to-man defense of Moorestown on consecutive possessions, scoring both times to slice the lead to 9-8 with less than 12 minutes to play.

Ridgewood never got over the hump, however as the Quakers controlled the draws and used long possessions to work the clock to their advantage. With the Ridgewood defense having to press to try to force turnovers all while tightly marking Panzarella in the middle, it opened up lanes for Knobloch to exploit. The Quakers scored four straight goals to put the game away, three coming from the stick of Knobloch as Moorestown ended an unprecedented three-year drought with a Tournament of Champions title.

“We knew Ridgewood was going to capitalize on our mistakes, but we had to stick together and stick to our gameplan,” said Panzarella. “This tournament is great because there is only one team that ends their high school season with a win. We knew we had to keep fighting and give it everything we had to come out on top.”

Kayla Frank had a hat trick for Moorestown, which finished the season with a 23-2 record.

The James Madison-bound Knobloch led the way with four goals for Moorestown (23-2). Panzarella and Kayla Frank each had a hat trick with Cailin Field adding two goals and an assist. Ashley Nutt led all players with three assists and the Quakers got great two-way play from Ava Frantz, who also had two assists. Goalie Logan Lillie finished with eight saves.

Wolak had four goals and an assist for Ridgewood (22-4). Cailin Bracken, Olivia Derrico, and Cat Roxas each scored once and goalie Kara Rahaim added 11 saves.

Although both teams lose some Division 1-caliber seniors and several of their top scorers, both will return more than half of their starting lineups and will be favored to meet again for the Tournament of Champions title in 2019.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the effort we displayed today and we can leave here holding our heads up high knowing that we left it all on the field,” said Ridgewood head coach Karla Mixon. “It’s sad when the season ends this way. I’m so happy I got to spend so much time with this group. Our seniors have been a great example for our younger players and those players will be motivated for next year by this experience.”