Kurzyna goes from chasing balls to saving them in Lakeland upset by Rich Barton of northjerseysports.com

CLIFTON – Julia Kurzyna could have quit the Lakeland soccer team and justified that decision. After starting in net as a junior, Kurzyna was beat out for the starting spot this season by freshman Shannon Harnett. Walking out on her teammates, however, was not something that Kurznya was interested in and, relegated to a backup roleb she was not bitter; she just wanted to be together for one more season with her friends.

Facing previously unbeaten Wayne Valley in the Passaic County semifinals on Saturday, Kurzyna had no expectations for herself, just the hope that her team would play well and find a way to pull the upset.

As the teams went to overtime scoreless, Harnett went down with an injury to force the senior into action. After surviving an action-packed second overtime period and heading to penalty kicks Kurzyna knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Her patience and perseverance paid off in a memory that neither her nor her teammates will ever forget.

Kurzyna saved two shots in the penalty-kick shootout, including one on Wayne Valley’s final try as sixth-seeded Lakeland pulled off a PK stunner for the second straight week in the Passaic County Tournament, this time giving the Lancers a berth in the county final with a 0-0 (4-3 in PK’s) victory at Clifton Stadium.

“I was trembling coming into a game in a pressure situation like we were in,” said Kurzyna. “I was so nervous but I had to block that out for the team and give it my all.”

Arden Lembryk made five saves for Wayne Valley.

Wayne Valley came into the game with all the momentum with a banner season that included a 3-0 win over the same Lakeland team just two days prior. That momentum did not last long as the Lancers shrugged off a slow start. The Lakeland back line was rock solid throughout and started to knock the ball around.

The Lancers also caught a break on the only true scoring chance for either team in the first half. Emily Jozak ripped a shot from the top corner of the box that hit flush off the post and was cleared away by Lakeland sweeper Katie Mullin.

“We did not play to out full potential when we lost to Wayne Valley on Thursday and we defended much better today,” said Lakeland head coach Louise Marlow. “Once we saw we could play the ball and not just kick and run we started to gain some confidence.”

Lakeland found its footing in the midfield and created some scoring chances late in the second half. The best of those coming off a long free kick that bent just over the crossbar as the teams both zeros on the scoreboard going into overtime.

Wayne Valley had the better of play in both overtime periods. Harnett made a pair of big saves in the first overtime but on the second one she collided with Wayne Valley’s Kelsey Ramos and stayed down with 1:43 left in the first OT. This thrust Kurzyna, who spent the first half running the sidelines as a ball girl, into action in the most important game of Lakeland’s season and the biggest game of her life.

Rylee Johnson converted her PK in the fifth round to put Lakeland in front for good.

“The one thing I told (Kurzyna) was that she was not a backup goalie but she’s a goalie,” added Marlow. “It’s a luxury to have a goalie that coming in. Seeing us step up and someone like Julia thrive in a game like today, that’s what makes coaching so much fun.”

The Indianswent for the kill in the second overtime. Things looked to go from bad to worse for the Indians when two Lakeland’s best defenders both went down with injuries in the second overtime. Kurzyna did not get rattled by the constant pressure and controlled the box to survive the second overtime and force a penalty-kick shootout to decide who moved on.

Wayne Valley regained the momentum with a strong showing in the overtimes and having All-Passaic goalie Arden Lembryk (five saves) in net for the PK shootout. However, the Lancers felt equally as confident in Kurzyna and she figured out a gameplan on the fly.

After each team scored on their first shot, Kurzyna was not about to get fooled on the second. She dove to her left and punched it away to give the Lancers a lead.

“The first shooter looked one way then shot the other, I just guessed that the next one was going to do the same thing,” said Kurzyna. “From there I was just watching their eyes and diving the opposite way of where they were looking.”

After a Lakeland shot hit the crossbar, the score was tied going into the fifth and final shooter. Lakeland went first and senior Rylee Johnson buried it in the back of the net to put the pressure back on the Indians. With nothing to lose, Kurzyna stuck to her gameplan and it worked again. She dove to her left and punched the ball wide of the post. As she rose to her feet the look was one of pure joy and bewilderment as what had just transpired as her teammates mobbed her to celebrate one of the biggest wins in the history of Lakeland girls’ soccer.

“This feels great, I can’t even imagine feeling better than this,” said an elated Kurzyna. “It’s like a dream. I can’t even believe this is happening and I can’t stop smiling.”

Harnett made four saves and Kurzyna added four of her own for Lakeland (8-7-1). The Lancers will take on top-seeded and defending Passaic County champ DePaul in the PCT final next Saturday. Having already taken out the Nos. 2 and 3 (West Milford) seeds in the tournament after losing to both of them in the regular season. The Lancers now have a chance to do it again against the No. 1 seed and are one win away from the most improbable title run in the storied history of the Passaic County Tournament.

“We are motivated and we’re finally starting to realize that we’re a good team,” said Marlow. “We have nothing to lose, the girls are having fun and we’ve been on a roll in the county tournament. As a coach that’s really all I can ask for.”