Saddle River Day's best-ever season ends in state final

Freshman Calista Collins anchored a backline that kept Saddle River Day in the game before its best-ever season came to an end with a 2-0 loss to Rutgers Prep in the Non-Public B state final.

UNION – Warming up for the Non-Public B state final against heavily favored Rutgers Prep, the Saddle River Day players could not stop smiling and laughing. The realization had set in before the game just how much the program has grown in the past three years. After winning just two games in the first year under head coach PJ Petrow, the Rebels became the first championship soccer team in school history with a Non-Public North B title in hand. Even though one last upset was not to be, the Rebels enjoyed every step of the journey and still could not stop smiling as the final whistle blew.

Livia Davidson was spectacular in net and sweeper Calista Collins kept a dangerous Rutgers Prep squad off the scoreboard in the first half, but the Rebels could not hold them off for long in the second half. The Argonauts scored twice in just over a minute to win their first-ever state title and end Saddle River Day's upset-laden run with a 2-0 defeat in the Non-Public B state final on Sunday at Kean University in Union.

“My freshman year we won two games and look at where we are now,” said Saddle River Day senior Emma Simmel. “With how well we played in our league we thought we could do something special. I don't think any of us expected to get this far but I'm so proud of how far we've come.”

Saddle River Day was not intimidated by more experienced, more skilled opponents throughout the season. They relished the challenge of playing the best competition they could find and Rutgers Prep was by far the best team the Rebels faced this season. The Argonauts allowed just one goal in their three state tournament wins but the Rebels nearly broke through in the first 90 seconds. Jessica Yee found outside back Mia Walsh on an overlapping run, her shot beat the Rutgers Prep keeper Emma Littman but went just wide of the far post. Yee had another scoring opportunity from outside the top of the box that slipped inches wide of the left post.

Micah Livingston's goal put Rutgers Prep in front to stay.

That seemed to turn a switch on as the Argonauts dominated possession for the remainder of the first half. They spent nearly the entire half in the Rebels' end but the back line refused to break. Collins, a freshman, was all over the field making successful tackles. Katherine Meeks and Ella Adamek also marked well throughout the half. The Argonauts broke through four different times over the final 12 minutes of the half but could not find the back of the net. Two of their shots were denied on diving saves by Davidson, the standout keeper who had a season-high 15 saves, and the other went over the crossbar as the Rebels survived the first 40 minutes after a scoreless first half.

“We stuck to our gameplan in the first half and we kept them in front of us,” said Petrow. “We couldn't knock the ball around with that team, they were exceptional. The gameplan was to pack it in a bit, defend in numbers, and try to counterattack. We stayed organized and stayed underneath the ball; we had to because we knew what we were up against. To keep a team like that in check in the first half showed the grit and effort we have showed all season.” 

Rutgers Prep (19-1) kept the pressure on in the second half before breaking through in the 46th minute. On a cross into the box that bounced around, Micah Livingston was able to collect it at the six-yard box and slide one past Davidson to put the Argonauts ahead. Just 1:33 later, Asia Hankerson ripped an absolute laser from 25 yards out into the lower left-hand corner to make it a 2-0 lead.

Livia Davidson made a season high 15 saves for Saddle River Day, which finished the season at 14-5-1.

Saddle River Day (14-5-1) looked for some late magic and had some chances in the final 20 minutes to get back in the game. Leanna Tsahalis had a pair of hard shots from the top left corner of the box, but both were right at Littman as time finally ran out on the Rebels' season.

“We would have liked to win today, but nothing really beats this ride we've been on this whole season,” said McMahon. “We felt we would be stronger this season than in previous seasons with our two big guns, (Yee and Davidson) coming back. The freshman class came in and really helped us get to where we are now. We couldn't be happier with our performance and how we played.”

At the end of the game, there were lots of hugs but there were no tears. The Rebels gave it everything they had and went on an journey that seemed near impossible just two months ago. Saddle River Day thrust itself into the spotlight on a statewide level with its state tournament run. As bright as the present is, the future is equally as bright with nine starters returning. That includes Yee (the team's leader in goals and assists) Davidson in net and the entire back line. Now with a championship pedigree, the goal is to continue that success for years to come.

“Now we're expected to win a bit, which is kind of crazy from where we came from,” added Petrow. “We lose four seniors and two key starters in Emma Simmel and Sophia McMahon, two real energy players. But we have a lot coming back and with Liv in net, we feel we have one of the best goalkeepers in the state. I didn't think this would all happen with the program this soon but I'm happy that it did and I couldn't be happier with the way this season turned out.”