PISCATAWAY, N.J. - The Moorestown High girls' lacrosse team has gotten so incredibly good that, for the seniors, winning it all has turned into as much a sense of relief as a celebration.
"It has," coach Deanna Knobloch said yesterday after the Quakers defeated Chatham, 16-9, at Rutgers' Yurcak Field to win their ninth consecutive NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title and 16th overall. "I think we all feel a huge sense of relief.
"It's amazing to win your ninth straight, but for these 15 seniors, it's the weight of the world on your shoulders the whole entire season. Every year there is more and more pressure, and this group was at their best in the playoffs. They had an incredible year."
Annie McKinley, who scored six goals on the same turf she will play on in college, and Bridget Callahan, who added three goals and an assist, agreed with their coach.
"It's a lot of pressure on your shoulders," McKinley said. "As a senior, you're like, 'Oh, my gosh, if we lose this year we're going to go down in history as that team that lost.' That would be horrible. But it's over - no more pressure and I'm really proud of the team."
"It was such a weight off my shoulders," said Callahan, who led Moorestown this season with 82 goals. "You don't realize it until you're a senior what tradition you need to carry on. Now that it's over, it's a good relief."
Especially the way things have gone this year in South Jersey, where impressive runs by Eastern in field hockey and Paulsboro in wrestling came to an end.
Moorestown (24-1) just kept rolling, winning its 189th straight against New Jersey competition. The last loss was to Summit in the 1999 finals.
Chatham (23-3), the Group 1 champion making its first finals appearance, provided quality competition. After falling behind, 2-0, the Cougars quickly tied it.
Moorestown, which scored on half of its 32 shots, responded with goals from McKinley, Alyssa Ogle, Callahan, Virginia Weber and McKinley to make it 7-2 with 8 minutes, 46 seconds left in the first half. The Quakers maintained a firm grip as the margin fluctuated between four and seven.
"We finally started to move our offense," said McKinley, who finished with 76 goals. "At first, we were holding it and being patient with it, and taking it one-vs.-one. We finally got our motion going and got the openings we usually get."
Even when Moorestown scuffled early, Callahan wasn't concerned.
"They came out on fire and we were a little slow to start, but we picked it up after realizing what was at stake," she said. "We didn't want to be the ones to let it go. But even when we were tied, I thought the entire time we had control of the game."
With control came a celebration, and lots of relief.
Chatham 5 4 - 9
Moorestown 9 7 - 16