Ella Madden (center) headed home to first half corner kicks and added a third goal in the second half of Park Ridge's 6-1 win at Saddle RIver Day on Thursday.
SADDLE RIVER – The fall season has already presented many challenges for Park Ridge that include a new head coach for a team that has lost six key seniors from last year. Those challenges were expected. The ones that were unforeseen were the various issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic has created across the world, including the high school sports landscape.
Even with a largely inexperienced team coming into this season, the Lady Owls have already shifted their focus to what they can control in between the lines. The camaraderie and the work ethic was noticeable from the first practice, but several questions remained as they prepared for their season-opener against defending Non-Public B North section champ Saddle River Day.
Where would the leadership on this team come from? How would three freshmen on the back line hold up against varsity competition? Most importantly, would this team be able to jell without having played so much as a scrimmage? Much to the delight of Park Ridge head coach Dylan Evans, all of those were answered emphatically.
Locked in a tie game late in the first half, three-sport star Ella Madden took control of the match. Just 80 seconds apart, she headed in a pair of corner kicks from Abbie Molinari before adding another goal in the second half for her first career hat trick as Park Ridge looked dominant in every phase of the game with a 6-1 triumph over Saddle River Day in Saddle River.
Jessica Yee scored the goal for Saddle River Day.
“I was pleasantly surprised with how well we played today,” said Park Ridge head coach Dylan Evans. “With six seniors having graduated and five freshmen starting, I thought there might be some nerves considering we didn't even have a scrimmage. But we came out aggressive and worked really well together.”
The Lady Owls set the tone early with a goal on their first shot of the season. Off of a turnover in the Rebels' defensive third, Kerry Perez centered a pass towards the top of the box. Teammate Amanda Cicero beat two defenders and charging Saddle River Day keeper Livia Davidson to the ball and alertly one-timed a shot past Davidson and into the back of the net to give Park Ridge the lead less than four minutes in.
Jessica Yee was outstanding throughout Saddle River Day's upset-laden run through the state tournament last year. On one play she showed just how dangerous she can be with the ball at her feet, zig-zagging her way through four defenders before striking a shot inside the far post to knot the game at 1 in the ninth minute.
The Rebels had a chance to go ahead midway through the half when Emily Besserer had a shot from inside the box., but Park Ridge goalie Shea Broderick cut down the angle and dropped down to make the save. It proved to be the last time Broderick was tested all afternoon as, led by sweeper Juliana Barros, the Lady Owls made poised decisions in the back to facilitate the attack.
Kerry Perez scored a second half goal for Park Ridge.
With time winding down in the first half, Molinari bent a corner kick right near the penalty spot. Madden rose up above the sea of players in the middle of the box and headed it into the lower right-hand corner to give Park Ridge the lead. Just over a minute later, the pair connected on a nearly identical play with Madden sneaking inside a defender to head another one home that pushed the Lady Owls to a 3-1 halftime lead.
“The players I expected to be leaders this season really stepped up today,” said Evans. “Ella, Abbie, and Kerry have all been in big games before and they know what it takes for us to have a successful season.”
The second half was virtually all Park Ridge. If there was any suspense left, it was whether Madden would finally achieve a hat trick after ten two-goal games over her two varsity seasons. The junior found the back of the net in the second half to complete the hat trick with Cicero and Perez also adding goals for the final margin.
With four consecutive tough games on tap over the next two weeks, Evans is making sure his team stays focused for the long haul.
“I want them to appreciate how well they played and enjoy that feeling, but tomorrow we have to put this game behind us and get ready for Midland Park on Tuesday.”