The team’s recent state tournament run ended in a nail-biting game against Mountain Lakes Tuesday.
Chris Robertson scored on a pass from Jon Broome in the fourth minute and the lone goal held up in Mountain Lakes’ 1-0 triumph over Kinnelon in the North 1, Group II semifinals soccer contest on Tuesday.
The sixth-seeded Lakers advanced to the sectional final to play Newton on Friday. Goalkeeper Brandon Wexler stopped two shots to earn the shutout for Mountain Lakes (18-2-1).
Kinnelon finished its season at 8-11-1 but the 15th seeded team had a spectacular final week of soccer with road wins over Glen Rock and Pascack Hills. The Colts' recent success made Tuesday’s loss frustrating and somewhat puzzling. They came out tentative, surrendered an early goal and never approached the level of play they set during their previous state tournament efforts.
“To be honest that team you saw play for us, the first half was the team that lost 10 games,’’ Kinnelon coach Nick Stokes said. “That’s what’s disappointing for me. (In the previous state games) they worked. They worked a lot harder. They wanted the game.’’
Desire is an element that all championship teams need. The Colts spent much of Tuesday’s game searching for it. They had it in two road games in which the team triumphed despite being heavy underdogs.
In the opening round of the tournament, Harrison Steadman and Greg Budd scored goals in a 2-0 triumph against second-seeded Glen Rock. The Colts followed that win with a gritty 1-1 (3-0 shootout) win against seventh- seeded Pascack Hills in the quarterfinals. Those contests, the Colts played like they had nothing to lose. Why that attitude and level of desire left them on Tuesday seemed to be a complete mystery to the Kinnelon players.
“The games against Glen Rock and Pascack Hills were the best two games we played all season,’’ Kinnelon goalie Paul Defeo said. “We outwilled the other team. We didn’t technically beat them. We just wanted it so much more.’’
The Lakers might have had something to do with it. Mountain Lakes captured the division title and swept the Colts in the season series. In the last regular-season meeting on Oct. 25, the Lakers rallied from a 1-0 deficit with a pair of goals in the final six minutes. Revenge often serves as a rallying point for a team, but not for Kinnelon on Tuesday.
“I don’t know why,’’ Defeo said. “Going into a game against one of our closest rivals it looked like the desire just wasn’t as strong. After such a good run -- and nobody expected us to get this far -- it was so sad to lose this way.’’
It also didn’t help that one of the team’s key scorers missed a good chunk of the second half because of injury. Going up for a 50-50 ball late in the first half, Kinnelon’s Harrison Steadman and Mountain Lakes’ goalkeeper Brandon Wexler collided. It took awhile for Steadman to get up. He missed the first 20 minutes of the second half before being allowed to return. The usually dangerous Kinnelon threat was ineffective for the rest of the contest.
“Harry’s injury hurt us,’’ Stokes said. “He’s a player that can change the game. He got a bang on the head and he was dizzy for awhile and the trainer wouldn’t let him back in. That’s just the way the game went.’’
Mountain Lakes had the majority of the scoring opportunities, and a 13-2 edge in shots overall, but the Kinnelon defense held. In one key sequence, Kinnelon defender Taylor Monroe saved the day by blocking a shot and clearing it off the goal line. The Colts never consistently mustered much offense against the confident Lakers squad. Wexler and the Lakers defense repelled most Colts chances before they became dangerous.
Despite the loss, the tournament run bodes well for Kinnelon’s future. The Colts are losing four senior starters from this team: Defeo, Budd, Shane Gregoire and Jared Ginsberg. If the returning members of next year’s team can gain experience and learn some lessons from this year’s title run, perhaps Kinnelon can turn this perplexing loss into a positive result after all.
“We were a young team,’’ Defeo said. “Seven of our 11 starters were juniors and sophomores. We had three freshmen that had good playing time. It can only go up from here.
“This run will definitely help those (returning) kids. This is a tough loss but you have to learn how to lose, too. When they come back they will be a better group of players.’’