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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

SWEET SPOT: Stuart Country Day School junior attacker Mary Jane Sweetland heads toward goal earlier this spring. Last Sunday, Sweetland fired in four goals, including the game winner, to help lead Stuart to a 9-8 victory over Pennington in the state Prep B championship game.

Sparked by Sweetland's Deadly Shooting, Stuart Lax Nips Pennington to Win Prep B

By Bill Alden

Earlier this spring, Stuart Country Day attacker Mary Jane Sweetland developed a penchant for shooting high and wide.

Dedicating herself to being smarter with her shot, Sweetland became more selective as the spring went on and started finding the range on a consistent basis.

Last Sunday, Sweetland put on a sharpshooting display when it counted most as she fired in four goals, including the game-winner, to help Stuart edge Pennington 9-8 in the state Prep B championship game.

As she reflected on her stellar effort, Sweetland asserted that she resolved to turn things around personally in the wake of Stuart's 16-5 loss to Princeton Day School in late April.

"I felt that was a turning point in my season," declared Sweetland, referring to the PDS defeat. "That's when I started becoming a leader on attack. I started setting the plays and looking for passes. I think our attack has progressed from that point. We've improved every game we've played."

With Stuart having lost to Pennington in last year's Prep B semis and 9-8 in an early season game this April, Sweetland and her teammates were fired up to show the Red Raiders how potent their attack had become.

"We were psyched," said Sweetland, who scored two first half goals to help Stuart build a 5-3 halftime lead in the game which drew a large crowd at Pennington.

"After we beat Morristown-Beard in the semis, we knew this is what we wanted to do. We worked so hard to get here. We really knew what we wanted to do and how we had to accomplish it."

Sweetland, for her part, knew exactly what she wanted to do with the ball. "I was so excited," added Sweetland, who had to come out of the game late in the first half due to cramps caused by the sultry 80 degree day. "I was trying to be smart about my shots; I was trying not to miss the cage."

Pennington put the heat on Stuart as it fought back from a 9-5 deficit with 9:00 left to turn the game into a one-goal cliffhanger.

Sweetland, whose final goal of the game provided the margin of victory, acknowledged that the Red Raiders put a scare into the Tartans.

"They really came back," said Sweetland, with a bead of sweat rolling down her forehead. "I just wanted the edge on that last goal. I got knocked down but I wanted to get back up on my horse. I have more confidence in my game."

A beaming Stuart head coach Sara Wagner had plenty of confidence in her team due to the work ethic it showed down the stretch.

"I'm very happy for this team because they just wanted this so badly and worked so hard," asserted Wagner, whose team won seven of its last nine games to finish with a 9-8 record and win the program's first Prep B title since 2000. "The practices have been hard and they have been sponges, absorbing everything we gave to them."

One of the team's most eager learners was Sweetland. "She's been so intense at practice," said Wagner, referring to Sweetland, who scored 30 goals on the season.

"She's made her game three times better than what it was the last time we played Pennington. At the beginning of the year, she would get the ball and think I've got to score. As the season's gone on, she's worked for her shot. She's improved her shot selection. That's made a big difference because it controls the whole attack."

Another offensive player making a big difference for Stuart was sophomore midfielder Kelly Bruvik, who scored four goals in the title game.

Stuart's defense also made a pivotal contribution Sunday as it made some tactical switches in order to control Pennington's offensive stars, Andrea Piccariello and Kylee Rossi .

"We came into today with a game plan," explained Wagner, who got 19 saves from goalie Nina Szemis, many of them on point-blank shots.

"We put Annie Crawford Roberts on Pic and she did an excellent job. We worked on forcing Rossi wide. Nina just came up huge. She made so many big saves."

Like Sweetland, Wagner saw the loss to PDS as the wake-up call that got her team rolling on a championship track.

"We did see a difference after that," said Wagner, referring to the PDS defeat. "I also think the games got a little easier after that which helped us put things together and develop confidence. I yelled at them and put some fire into them."

Sweetland, for her part, thought the team showed a collective fire as it overcame its nemesis last Sunday. "I think everyone worked hard," said Sweetland. "I think everyone stepped up and played to their abilities today."

No Stuart player, however stepped more Sunday than the sharpshooting Sweetland.


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