UNION, N.J. — Moorestown coach Deanna Knobloch choked up before addressing the media. She was so overcome with emotion to the point that she couldn’t speak.
“Wow,” she finally said, seeming surprised at her own reaction, “I don’t even know how I’m going to get through this.”
On Saturday afternoon at Kean University, Knobloch’s Moorestown girls’ lacrosse team reclaimed the Group 3 state championship in an emotional 7-6 win over Summit. The game was a close, physical battle on a brutally hot afternoon.
And in the end, it wasn’t just about Moorestown reclaiming a title — the team also reclaimed an identity.
“I am just so happy for this senior class that I have watched grow up since they were in second grade. They wanted this so bad,” Knobloch said. “And I wanted them to experience this so bad.”
Moorestown is the owner of an unprecedented 21 outright state championships, but was denied the Group 3 title the last two seasons at the hands of Summit. A crushing one-goal loss to Summit last year was still fresh in the Quakers’ minds on Saturday.
Most Moorestown players grow up dreaming of moments like this, and for Knobloch, it was her last chance to win a title with her daughter, Kacey, a senior on the team who scored a goal in the first half on Saturday.
“That,” Knobloch added, “is what makes it even more special.”
Kayla Frank led all scorers with three goals, while Robin Panzarella chipped in two goals and two assists.
“Being able to just come out with this win just shows all of the work that we put into this program,” said Panzarella, a senior who scored the winner with 5 minutes, 31 seconds left in the second half. “It’s an amazing feeling.”
The teams traded goals for most of the first half. But the Quakers opened the second half in a bit of a funk, and Summit (18-4) punished them for it, scoring the first two goals and taking a 6-5 lead, its first lead of the game, with 20:28 to play.
At that point, Moorestown (21-2) called timeout. And the game wasn’t the same afterward.
“Our coaches told us it was going to come down to effort and who wanted it more,” Panzarella said. “We weren’t going to let it slip by. We had [20 minutes] left. And there was just no way we were going to let another championship slip through our hands.”
Frank scored the equalizer with 6:04 left, ending a span of 20:06 between goals for Moorestown.
Moorestown won the ensuing draw, and 33 seconds later, Panzarella put the team ahead for good.
“It was just a play that our team executed really well,” she said. “When I got it, I knew I had to finish. I know that people will say that was a big goal. But I think it was just one goal. Everyone on our team played amazing.”
It took an all-out team effort down the stretch to hold on to the lead as the pace became more frantic, the play more physical, and the style something more akin to a backyard brawl than polished lacrosse.
But Moorestown looked stronger. The team forced several crucial turnovers down the stretch, including a takeaway by Rylee Brown with 45 seconds left. Summit was 0-for-5 on free position shots in the second half, thanks to that all-out defensive effort, particularly by goalie Logan Lillie, who stopped eight shots.
It was indicative of a game in which every player on the field made some kind of contribution, some kind of sacrifice.
“It means so much to all of us to win this game,” said Frank, a junior who stood out in both her scoring and ability to force turnovers. “This is amazing. It just took a lot of mental toughness. We work on that all season. We all just wanted it so bad.”
Moorestown 5 2 — 7
Summit 4 2 — 6
Goals: S- Katia Carnevale, Anna Huntley-Robertson, Helen Johnson 2, Emily Paytas, Anna Turk; M- Kayla Frank 3, Kacey Knobloch, Ashley Nutt, Robin Panzarella 2.
Saves: M- Logan Lillie 8, S- Amy Martino 4.