The mood was solemn as the Hun School girls’ soccer team headed to Peddie last Thursday for a state Prep A semifinal clash.
”We had to prepare ourselves for this game,” said Hun junior star Ashley Maziarz.
“We were really focused on the way here. We were very quiet and focused on the game when we got here. We paid attention to what we were doing in the warm up. We really worked hard.”
Once the game started, a business-like sixth-seeded Hun team controlled possession, generating a number of corner kicks and putting the second-seeded Peddie defense under pressure.
On one of those corners, defender Maziarz got on the end of an Olivia Braender-Carr volley and headed the ball in for a goal.
That combination has been the blueprint for several Hun goals this fall. “Usually that is how we set up the corners; we like to get me to the far post,” said Maziarz.
“Olivia likes to take the kick, she has a really good strike. She always know swhere to hit it and knows where I am. A lot of time it falls into place. It was a really lucky goal. The goalie came out and I think she might have gotten a tip on it and the ball fell right on my head.”
Maziarz’s goal proved to be the lone tally of the contest as Hun prevailed 1-0 and booked its spot in the Prep A championship game at top-seeded Pennington on November 6.
After the final whistle below, the mood around the Hun squad was joyous as the players hugged after the game and then jogged to the cheers of their fans on the post-game warm down.
A smiling Maziarz acknowledged that there were some anxious moments as Peddie battled hard after intermission.
“It was definitely a different feel in the second half, they were pressing hard,” said Maziarz. “They came out strong. We had some rough moments but we pulled together.”
The victory was another step forward in a surprisingly strong late surge which has seen Hun rebound from a 0-7 start to make its first appearance in the state Prep A title game since 2009.
“We started off weak,” said Maziarz, noting that she was sidelined in the early going due to a partial tear in her patella.
“Now is the time that really matters; we seem to be pulling together and peaking at the right time. We are working as a team and we are working hard, especially in practice, getting what we need to do.”
As a team captain, Maziarz has felt the need to be extra supportive of Hun’s large contingent of freshmen and sophomores.
“I like to keep them focused and positive,” said Maziarz. “In the beginning of the season when it wasn’t going the way we wanted it to, I tried to build them up.”
Hun head coach Joanna Hallac points to the return of Maziarz as a key factor in her squad’s strong finish.
“Getting Ashley back from injury as well as Jess Sacco has really changed the dynamic on the team,” asserted Hallac.
“The two of them not only possess the ball well, but they calm things down, they control things out there. Now that these freshmen have had all of this experience and you are getting veteran players back, it is really a good time to start jelling and we are.”
In Hallac’s view, Hun got off to a really good start in the Peddie clash. “I told the girls at halftime this was the best 40 minutes of soccer I had seen them play all year,” said Hallac.
“They were doing everything right other than one little missed communication in the back. We really possessed the ball, we were moving it around. We were getting good looks at it and all it takes is that one opportunity that you capitalize on.”
Hun had to hold the fort in the second half as Peddie looked to equalize. “I thought we handled it well,” said Hallac.
“There are always going to be those scary moments, a couple where we got lucky. I told the girls that you make your own luck. We took care of our chance and then we did what we needed to do to solidify the win. We were able to hold on and I was proud of them.”
Hallac is proud of the resilience her players have shown in battling back from their rocky start this fall. “These girls have been working hard and getting better every time they step on the field,” asserted Hallac.
“Even when we were 0-7, they were showing such improvement every game. It was just a matter of keeping them positive and keeping them hungry. They kept showing up every day and working hard and doing every thing I asked and I told them it is going to come together you have just got to believe me. They saw it and kept working.”
Beating Lawrenceville in the opening round of the Prep A tournament and in a regular season contest in the same week helped propel Hun, now 6-11-1, into the title clash with perennial power Pennington.
“They gained a new kind of confidence that is allowing them to really reach their potential and playing the kind of soccer I know they have been capable of the whole time,” said Hallac, whose team battled hard in losing to Pennington 4-2 in a regular season contest and 2-0 in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament. “I think they feel they can beat Pennington if they play their best soccer.”
Maziarz, for her part, believes Hun will give Pennington all it can handle. “I think right now we are focused a lot more and that is really helping,” said Maziarz. “Once we won those games against Lawrenceville, it definitely gave us confidence. We want to keep playing and play hard.”