Editor Note: Records, stats, and rankings are reflective of games before Wednesday, Oct. 25.
With the fall sports’ regular seasons coming to an end, that can only mean one thing: the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) playoffs are right around the corner. A team that will be right in the thick of it will be the Rowan women’s soccer team.
There are six teams that make the playoffs every season. Currently, William Paterson, Ramapo, and Kean have all officially been eliminated from playoff contention. Rowan and The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) are both guaranteed first-round byes and are both competing for the one seed. Montclair State is locked in as the three seed.
Rowan is currently in first place in the NJAC with one game left to go against Stockton, and is one of the three teams in the NJAC that are ranked in the United Soccer Coaches top 25. The Profs, who have a 7-0-1 conference record are ranked No. 11, the highest of any team in the NJAC.
The Profs are looking to win the NJAC championship for the second year in a row, but a few teams could stand in the way of that.
TCNJ Lions (12-2-1; 7-1 NJAC)
TCNJ is one of the two teams besides Rowan ranked in the United Soccer Coaches top 25 at No. 15.
The Lions have the player with the most goals in the NJAC in Victoria D’Imperio, who has 16 goals. They also have Emma Pascarella, who has the most assists in the conference. Their offense is very high-powered as they average over four goals a game.
When they faced Rowan, they matched up in a very physical contest where all it took was one goal from either side to take the victory. It ultimately proved to be the Profs’ day when Sarah Bergan scored a goal in the second half.
If Rowan can make it into a low-scoring game, they have every chance to win. If these two teams do face off against each other again in the NJAC playoffs, then it will no doubt once again be a close contest.
“You have to give effort 100 percent of the time to beat a team like that,” Head Coach Scott Leacott said. “If you rest for one minute, they will be all over you. When you look at the postseason, things are just different. If you look at our regular season game against them, we had a physical game with them. In the postseason, it’s gonna be amped up even more if we face them.”
Montclair State Red Hawks (11-2-2; 5-1-2 NJAC)
Montclair started off the season as the highest-ranked team and favorite to win the NJAC. With the way they have performed this season, they are the clear third in the conference. Their biggest flaw this season has been the defensive side of the ball as they allow a goal per game on average, which is in the middle of the pack in the NJAC this season.
Their offense, on the other hand, is still one of the best in the conference, as they average more than two goals per game.
Montclair is also the only team this season to shut out the Profs and not lose to them, as the two teams recorded a 0-0 tie back on Oct. 7. The Red Hawks will also certainly try to get revenge on Rowan for beating them in last season’s championship game.
One of the biggest keys for Rowan would be to score early in the game. This will cause Montclair not to play as defensively, which should open the door for players like Olivia Giordano and Mackenzie Clement to get good looks and allow them to take a bigger lead.
“Montclair is a very good team in our conference. They are one of the teams that can beat any team on any given day,” Leacott said. “It is hard to say what it is gonna take for us to beat them, or for us to beat them. It is gonna be which team is on that day.”
Rutgers-Camden Scarlet Raptors (8-7-1; 4-4 NJAC)
This season Rutgers-Camden has done what they needed to throughout the regular season. They have beaten teams that they were supposed to and lost to teams that were better than them, such as Rowan and Montclair State.
They have been stuck in the middle of the season for most statistics. They are fifth in goals per game and fourth in goals allowed in the NJAC. The difference between Rutgers-Camden and most other teams below them is they have turned what are ties for other teams into wins. They are 3-3 in one-goal games this season, which is better than most teams below them in the conference.
If Rowan does manage to hold on to the one seed, that may turn out to be disastrous for the Scarlet Raptors, because if they win in the first round, they would travel to Rowan. They have never beaten Rowan throughout their history as a team and have been shut out in their last three matchups.
They are the team closest to Rowan through proximity, so the familiarity could finally give them a leg up on the Profs, but if history has shown us anything, that is not likely to happen.
“Everybody knows each other on the teams,” Leacott said. “They know all of our players, and our players know all of ours. They are only a 20-minute bus ride away. There is always some familiarity between us. I just think because of the proximity they play really hard against us and are tough.
Stockton Ospreys (8-2-7; 2-2-4 NJAC)
Stockton is the last team who has clinched a playoff berth thus far. Their biggest advantage has been that they average under a goal allowed per game. Only the top two teams, Rowan and TCNJ, have given up fewer goals throughout the season.
Goalie Keil Morgan leads the conference in shutouts but has not played in the last couple games. Morgan is right up there with Rowan’s goalie, Calista Burke, for the lead in most goalie statistics. If Stockton has any chance to make a run they need Morgan.
Like a couple of other teams in this preview, such as Rutgers-Newark and Rutgers-Camden, their offense has been middle of the pack this season.
Stockton is the only team left to not face Rowan this season. After coming off a less than inspiring game against William Paterson, the Profs are looking to iron out a few wrinkles before the postseason starts. Stockton will be looking to play spoiler to the Profs’ one-seed dreams.
“We are really focusing on our movement off the ball,” Clement said. “We have gotten lost playing a different game. We are trying to connect again, hopefully pick up this win.”
Rutgers-Newark Scarlet Raiders (7-10; 3-5 NJAC) and New Jersey City University (NJCU) Gothic Knights (6-6-4; 2-3-3 NJAC)
Rutgers-Newark finds themselves in a spot where they have to win or tie against the NJCU Gothic Knights or they will find themselves out of playoff contention. The same thing goes for NJCU; the only difference is they have to win, a tie or loss does nothing for them.
If you look at this matchup statistically, NJCU has the upper hand leading in goals, assists, and goals allowed. On the other hand, the Scarlet Raiders have the historical advantage with an all-time record of 11-3-2.
NJCU lost to Rowan 5-0, so Rowan should have no problem once again dispatching them if they do eventually play.
The Scarlet Raiders are one of the few teams that have actually scored on Rowan this season, and the only team in the NJAC to do so. Even with that, Rowan still picked up a 3-1 win. If Rowan does play Rutgers-Newark again, they do not have to change up much. Just replicate what they did before, and they should move on in the postseason.
“Rutgers-Newark has great forwards,” Clement said. “They played a hard game against us. They have a good defense. We made some plays off the ball and won the game because of that. If we play them again, then we will win again.”
With so many things still to be decided with only one day remaining on the schedule, the Profs have one goal in mind that will help them throughout the postseason.
“I think it is very important for us to get home field advantage,” Clement said. “It is nice to play at home, I feel like we get the crowd going. I know if we can work hard we can achieve that goal.”