Women’s Lacrosse: No. 6 Lenape holds off No. 16 Cherokee, 14-13, for SJG4 Championship

What a difference a year makes.

Almost a year ago, Lenape lacrosse star Gianna Monaco, hampered by a painful hip labrum tear, limped off the field with her teammates after a loss to Rancocas Valley in the sectional semi-finals – a bitter end to a season the Indians had been waiting for. after seeing their 2020 season wiped out due to COVID-19.

Fast forward to Wednesday, when on a warm, sunny spring afternoon, the top-ranked Indians found redemption, fending off their proud and stubborn rival, defending state champion and No. 2 Cherokee, 14- 13, to win the Southern Championship, Group 4 before a delighted crown at home to Medford.

It was their first section title since 2015.

“It’s so nice,” said senior Lenape defender Audrey Cashin. “We called it our redemption season. It was our objective: to make up for this defeat last season.

“It’s fun to play all season, but that’s why we play, so we can win championships and get to the big games,” added coach Jill McCarthy, in her 15th season. “It’s fun to be one of the last teams to play.”

Lenape, ranked sixth in NJ.com’s Top 20, will face North Jersey champ Morristown — a 14-13 overtime winner over Ridgewood — for the state championship Saturday at 1 p.m. at Warren Hills High School.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Monaco, who scored a record six goals. “To come back after a difficult end last year. We definitely came back for the second round and wanted revenge. It was great that we were able to play (Cherokee) in the final and get the win.

The Indians (17-1) beat the Chiefs, 17-10, in the regular season, pulling away in the second half for the victory. But this time Cherokee just wouldn’t go, shooting 14-13 on a Chelsea Evans goal with seven seconds left.

It just didn’t give the 16th-ranked Chiefs (15-3) enough time to find the equaliser.

SEE A VIDEO OF LENAPE CELEBRATING HIS SECTION TITLE BELOW.

“It’s always going to be a tough game with them,” said Lenape junior Emma Bunting, who had five goals and three assists, while her twin sister Lily added two goals. “We both did our best and worked until the very last minute. We beat them earlier in the season and I think they saw that game as their turn, but we weren’t going to let that happen. We weren’t going to let anyone celebrate on our pitch, so we really dug deep to find that win. We are working as hard as we can to get that state championship.

Cherokee had only one lead in the game and that was after Delaney Jackson scored the game’s first goal just over three minutes into the game.

Monaco equalized just over two minutes later, followed by Emma Bunting’s opening goal to give the Indians a 2-1 lead. Monaco scored three more times before halftime and Lenape took a 5-4 lead at intermission.

SEE A VIDEO OF MONACO SCORING THEIR FOURTH GOAL BELOW.

The Chiefs leveled at 6-6 on Aly Mascolo’s goal early in the second half, but when Lily Bunting answered for Lenape it gave the Indians a lead they would never relinquish.

They opened up their biggest lead at 13-8 when Monaco scored their last goal with 4:57 remaining.

Cherokee coach Jeff Niederberger called a timeout at that point and told his team they still had time, and the Chiefs responded by outscoring the Indians 5-1 down the stretch.

Jackson was tenacious, scoring a team-high three of his five goals in that span.

“(Jackson) is great on the circle and we knew it would be a battle on the draw today so when we didn’t control the draw like I had hoped we still found a way to win. and I think that says a lot about our team and our girls,” McCarthy said.

Cherokee returned to the South Jersey Finals despite losing last year’s top scorer Alex Kulinski at graduation. But with Jackson, Mascolo (four goals) and Evans (three goals) in the lead, the Chiefs valiantly defended their title.

“I’m proud of their effort and their courage – they really fought and fought until the end,” Niederberger said. “We turned the ball over a bit too many times and that was the difference in the game. Over the past two years we’re 36-5 and the culture at Cherokee is now such that we expect to compete like this. We have plenty of players in the pipeline ready to step in and are looking forward to a bright future.

Indians, meanwhile, can continue to wear their “We Play for June” t-shirts for at least a few more days. They released them last year, but had to pack them prematurely.

“They’ve been so motivated all season long,” McCarthy said. “That’s been our goal – to get to the state championship game. Those days in March when we were in parkas and the snow was falling, and then days like (Tuesday) when we were out at 6 a.m. to fight the heat – that’s what they’re willing to do to get us to where we are. Our mantra has been that we’re going to set goals and smash them, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do all along. season. “

To win a state title, the Indians will likely need another big push from Monaco, who played the second half of last season on that torn labrum before having it surgically repaired last fall. The University of Florida commitment has a jaw-dropping 126 goals this season.

“She’s a real competitor,” McCarthy said. “She puts our team on her shoulders and takes us to places we’ve never been before. We joke that they had to give her a bionic hip because she came back as a girl on a mission. Her leadership, her competitiveness and what she brings to this team are unmatched.

Defensively, Cashin was the mainstay in front of goaltender Paige Shaw.

“She made so many great saves and caused turnovers in our defensive end, like she’s done for us all season,” McCarthy said. “Then she transitions the ball and passes it safely to our forwards. She’s been an unsung hero who makes huge plays and jumps on D and does it again. Without her, I doubt we would be the team we are.

And what they are is South Jersey’s Group 4 champion.

“I was on the edge of my seat at the end,” laughed Cashin. “It was closer than I would have liked. (Shaw) made some great saves and we got some big goals from Emma and Gianna, and Caroline (Cristella) had a great turnover at the end. It was team work. »

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