Ramapo grabs its first county title since 2003 by Cory Doviak of northjerseysports.com
ORADELL – The Bergen County championship match had just ended and the picture in the goal with the trophy had just been taken before Ramapo head coach Sarah Francini was finally comfortable enough to shed the contemporary soccer warm-up jacket she had been wearing and bring a piece of retro swag into view.
On the back of the gray hoodie were the words “Bergen County Champs 2003.”
“That was my senior year,” said Francini, who was a midfielder known as Sarah Meier when Ramapo beat Indian Hills in the county final on November 9, 2003.
That was also the last time the storied Ramapo girls soccer program had won a Bergen County title until October 25, 2019 when the Green Raiders knocked off Ridgewood, 3-1, at River Dell High School in Oradell. The championship is the 13th in Ramapo history and the first by a program not named Northern Highlands or IHA since Pascack Valley won it in 2006.
“I was excited when the game ended, but I also felt relief. It has been such a long stretch that I was relieved and happy for the girls when they finally got the chance to celebrate,” said Francini. “It’s been a long time and these girls earned the right to be here and have this moment. As far back as their freshman year, these senior captains have led the way. They put in the work day after in practice and, knowing them for the last four years; I am not surprised to see them in this position.”
With Ridgewood electing to employ a compact formation, Ramapo had the run of the midfield and many chances to unlock the Maroons in the first half, but could not slip anything past sophomore goalkeeper Paisley Tornatore.
Ashley Blaka converted a PK to get Ridgewood back to within 2-1 with 6:49 to play in the game.
Junior Mia Suchora headed Mary Cochran’s corner kick just over crossbar in the 14th minute, Lily Johnson’s shot off a MaryClare Langan endline run was deflected wide by Ridgewood’s Remy Ricciardi in the 25th minute and a lofted ball played up from senior defender Dom Bianchini fell to Suchora, who belted one right into the keeper’s gloves in the 29th minute.
Those were just a few examples of the first half pressure applied by Ramapo as it controlled the run of play while Ridgewood struggled to find touches for its lone forward asset, senior striker Payton Angus.
With Langan running wild on the wings, Suchora, a true box-to-box midfielder, bossing the middle of the field and Johnson and Cochran finding space running off of them, Ramapo was generating plenty of chances, but the game was still scoreless at the intermission and through the first six-plus minutes of the second half before Langan ran on to a free ball on the left touchline.
Langan blew past one, took on another defender in the box and then had her cleats clipped on her way by. Cochran, a sophomore, tucked the penalty kick into the right side to finally knock the lid off the goal with 33:04 left to play in the game.
“Mary [Cochran] has so much confidence in her penalty kicks and I have so much confidence in her as a player,” said Langan, the senior heading to Villanova University next season. “So I knew that she had to step up and take it and I knew it was going in.”
Junior Mia Suchora lining up the left-footed screamer that turned into the game-winning goal for Ramapo, which won the 13th county title in program history.
It certainly looked like Ramapo (14-1) was going to ease away when Suchora pulled off some trick to make it 2-0 nine minutes after her team had taken the lead. Suchora chased down a ball that was rolling in the opposite direction of the soon-to-be target and pulled it back just in front of a defender. Suchora then got her momentum going with a power dribble before the right-footed player hit a left-footed screamer into the upper right hand corner from about 25 yards out.
“When I came off at halftime my coaches told me to just take the shot, because sometimes you get nervous, especially in such a big game,” said Suchora, a junior who is already committed to William & Mary University. “I was just in the moment and I decided to take a chance. You can’t score a goal without trying.”
Ramapo was in the process of seeing out the game when Ridgewood grabbed a lifeline. The Raiders’ back line of Bianchini and Callie Cooke on the outside and center backs Ella Onal and Erica Madley were solid all game long, there was one hiccup, the handling of a cross into the box. Ashley Blaka converted the PK to get the Maroons back to within 2-1 with 6:49 to play in the game, but a lucky bounce at the other end put an end to the festivities.
Johnson, a sophomore, was taken down while making a run up the left flank and left the free kick to Cochran, another sophomore, who dropped it into the mixer where the last Ridgewood defender and the keeper miscommunicated. The result was the ball bouncing over the scrum and into the net to make it 3-1.
Five minutes later, the Ramapo contingent was streaming onto the pitch to celebrate its first county championship in 16 years.
There were a couple of defections to Academy soccer and injuries to both of the talented Chico sisters, Nikki and Emily, that thinned the Raiders’ ranks, but they never doubted that this was the year that the county title drought came to an end.
“In preseason we were talking about this. We knew we were the best team and, even with all of the injuries and the lost players, we were still confident that this was the team that was going to win,” said Langan. “This is our team, we knew we were going to win it and we have been looking forward to this night all season.”