Wayne Hills and Lakeland share a county championship

With Sarah Deighan pitching a shutout, Lakeland played 100 minutes of scoreless soccer in the Passaic County Tournament final on Satuday in Wayne.

WAYNE – In their first two meetings, Wayne Hills knew it had blown golden opportunities against Lakeland. The first time around Lakeland rallied from a deficit to win in overtime. The second game resulted in a Lakeland that all but locked up the Big North-Patriot League title for the Lancers. With the teams in different sections for the state tournament, Saturday’s Passaic County Tournament final not only represented a chance for the Patriots to become county champions,  but also represented their last shot at the Lancers before the ball get put away for 2017.

While the third endeavor was more successful than first two, the feeling at the final whistle was equally as frustrating. Neither second-seeded Wayne Hills nor top seed and defending champion Lakeland found the back of the net through 100 minutes of play and were declared Passaic County Co-Champions by virtue of a 0-0 tie at Wayne Valley High School.

Lakeland controlled most of the first half in the possession game, but that did not translate into shots on net. The Patriots struggled to get going and had just one shot in the first half but it was arguably the best chance of the game by either team. Wayne Hills’ Brooke Alexander broke free on a counterattack and ripped a left-footed shot that Lakeland keeper Sarah Deighan just got her fingertips on to push it wide of the far post. That play, along with the Patriots switching to a flat four in the back to force Lakeland to the flanks, were the turning points in terms of possession as the Patriots kept the pressure on throughout the second half and through the two overtime periods.

“We found space, we just couldn’t find room to shoot,” said Wayne Hills head coach Gregg Rehberger. “As the game went on we had a lot of possession, but we didn’t find that one goal that we needed. Against a good team with a very good goalie, you have to create something special to put one past her.”

Wayne Hills keeper Liv Sokoli made three saves to keep a clean sheet of her own.

Wayne Hills started to find some running room through the midfield and sent a pair of crosses into the box in the second half. Both of them, however, were picked off by Deighan, one of the state’s top goaltenders.

In the second overtime, the Patriots moved numbers forward and had two legitimate scoring chances from within 10 yards. Unfortunately for them, both shots went just over the crossbar and the teams had to settle for sharing the Passaic County title. Although the Patriots are technically county champions it sure did not feel like it as the teams walked off the field.

“It’s not my favorite rule in the world but it is what it is,” added Rehberger about being co-champions. “That said, this team has been outstanding and hard-working from day one. I’m really proud of the way we played and the way we’ve grown throughout the season.”

Liv Sokoli made three saves to earn the shutout for Wayne Hills (10-6-2). The Patriots will have a quick turnaround time for the state tournament. As the No. 6 seed in North 1, Group 3 they will face 11th-seeded Montville on Monday afternoon.

Lakeland (16-3-1) now has a third title to shoot for in the upcoming state tournament as the top seed in North 1, Group 2. Deighan made four saves for her 13th shutout of the season.

Regardless of what either team does in the state tournament, the feeling after finishing a county tournament as co-champions was a mutual one for Lakeland head coach Rick Capozzi, Rehberger, and seemingly every player on both teams.

“It was a well-played game and it kind of feels like a tie, but it’s still very frustrating,” said Capozzi. “We’re county champs for the second year in a row and that’s the first time in school history we’ve done that, but it doesn’t feel like we are. I feel that there should be a winner one-way or the other. You don’t play a tournament to tie.”