UNION, N.J. — Players and coaches acknowledged feeling the unavoidable pressure. This was the season — the start of a new era — for Moorestown to prove that it was still … Moorestown.
Saturday afternoon was proof that some things never change. Moorestown narrowly beat Mendham, 9-8, to win the Group 3 girls’ lacrosse state championship at Kean University.
Moorestown is the defending Tournament of Champions winner, and this was the program’s 13th Group 3 state title since Group championships were established in girls’ lacrosse in 2007.
But this was the team’s first state title without legendary coach Deanna Knobloch, who stepped down at the end of last season after one of the most successful careers in the history of high school sports in America.
“People were down on us, thinking that we might not come out as strong as we are,” said senior attacker Ashley Nutt. “It just makes a win like this even more awesome. We were able to prove something today.”
Moorestown moves on to Wednesday’s Tournament of Champions quarterfinals against Haddonfield. The program will try to add to its staggering 23 overall state titles.
“It feels really good to win a state championship in my first year as head coach. I couldn’t be more proud of my players,” Quakers coach Colleen Hancox said before acknowledging that there’s still more work to be done. “Having a total shift in coaching staff isn’t easy on us as coaches or on the players. ... Moorestown has such strong traditions, and the bar is set so high, and it just took so much hard work by everybody involved to get here.”
Nutt and Rylee Brown led the Quakers with three goals each. Brown’s third goal put Moorestown ahead by 9-7 with 16 minutes, 5 seconds left. It was enough of a cushion to carry the Quakers to victory.
Nutt scored three consecutive goals during the game’s most pivotal stretch. Mendham was in control, having scored four unanswered goals to take a 5-2 lead with 16:35 left in the first half.
But Nutt ripped off three goals in the final eight minutes of the half. Her final one, with 27 seconds left, gave Moorestown (18-5) a lead it never lost.
“Mendham had the momentum, and when that happens, you just want your players to reset and take a deep breath and remember what it takes to play Moorestown lacrosse,” Hancox said.
The Quakers were visibly fired up after falling behind by three goals, and it didn’t take long for them to regain control, despite the fact that Mendham didn’t go away for the rest of the game.
“It was stressful, but I knew we would come back. It was just a matter of when,” said Nutt, whose team weathered three yellow cards in the game.
Kayla Frank chipped in two goals for Moorestown. And, as she has all season, senior goalie Logan Lillie was heroic for the Quakers. Lillie recorded six saves and turned away several clean looks by Mendham (19-4) in the final minutes to help Moorestown maintain its lead.
“To be able to win this game again, especially in another close game, is just an amazing feeling,” said Lillie, who added that she’s recovered from a concussion she suffered midseason. “We got our groove back and started working together again [after falling behind]. But we still feel like we haven’t played our best lacrosse. And that’s what we’re going for.”
Moorestown 7 2 — 9
Mendham 6 2 — 8
Goals: Mo- Kayla Frank 2, Rylee Brown 3, Janey Galski, Ashley Nutt 3; Me - Ashley Peck 2, Regan Hakes, Megan Graziano, Carleigh Mahoney 3, Kelly McIntyre, Regan Hakes.