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Latest News in Mountain Lakes, NJ

North, Group 1 girls lacrosse 1st rd. recaps: Kinnelon, Mountain Lakes move on

Senior Abby Sullivan tallied five goals and two assists and junior Melissa Elefonte had four goals and two assists as sixth-seeded Kinnelon outlasted 11th-seeded Kittatinny 14-10 in the first round of the North Jersey Group 1 Tournament in Kinnelon.Kinnelon will next face third-seeded Verona in the quarterfinal on Tuesday.Sophomore Sabrina Avato produced a hat trick for Kinnelon (12-5) while freshman goalie Fairooz Kabir finished with nine saves.Sophomore Molly Riva and junior Alexa Shotwell each had two goals for Kittat...

Senior Abby Sullivan tallied five goals and two assists and junior Melissa Elefonte had four goals and two assists as sixth-seeded Kinnelon outlasted 11th-seeded Kittatinny 14-10 in the first round of the North Jersey Group 1 Tournament in Kinnelon.

Kinnelon will next face third-seeded Verona in the quarterfinal on Tuesday.

Sophomore Sabrina Avato produced a hat trick for Kinnelon (12-5) while freshman goalie Fairooz Kabir finished with nine saves.

Sophomore Molly Riva and junior Alexa Shotwell each had two goals for Kittatinny (10-8). Senior goalie Lara Kruck made seven saves.

Mountain Lakes 16, Waldwick 1

Freshman Kaylin Oey and sophomores Kayla Plotts and Julia Petersen had two goals apiece to help pace top-seeded Mountain Lakes, No. 9 in the NJ.com Top 20, to a 16-1 win over 16th-seeded Waldwick in the first round of the North Jersey Group 1 Tournament in Mountain Lakes.

Mountain Lakes will next face eighth-seeded Jefferson in the quarterfinal on Tuesday.

Senior Gianna Spagnola finished with four assists and senior Paige Glavin had a goal and two assists for Mountain Lakes (10-5).

Sophomore Kaitlyn Verdesca scored for Waldwick (11-7).

Glen Rock 17, Pascack Hills 4

Senior Julia Corry exploded for seven goals and four assists to lift fifth-seeded Glen Rock to a 17-4 win over 12th-seeded Pascack Hills in the first round of the North Jersey Group 1 Tournament in Glen Rock.

Glen Rock will next visit fourth-seeded Mahwah in the quarterfinal on Tuesday.

Senior Paige Manning produced a hat trick and had two assists while freshman Emily Sanders scored twice and had four assists for Glen Rock (11-7). Senior Kaylee Doyle scored twice as well.

Junior Izzy Benedict had two goals for Pascack Hills (13-3) while junior Emily Sailer had a goal and two assists. Senior Ally Green chipped in with a goal.

Mahwah 14, Cedar Grove 4

Junior Shannon Doran had four goals and two assists while sophomore Anna Ludwig tallied two goals and four assists to lead fourth-seeded Mahwah to a 14-4 win over 13th-seeded Cedar Grove in the first round of the North Jersey Group 1 Tournament in Mahwah.

Mahwah will next host fifth-seeded Glen Rock in the quarterfinal on Tuesday.

Sophomore Julia Graceffo and seniors Lauren Cherven and Gianna Lotito marked two goals apiece for Mahwah (10-6) while sophomore Izzy Lotito chipped in with a goal and two assists.

Junior Taylor Bennett produced a hat trick to lead Cedar Grove (6-11) and sophomore Kierstin Walter finished with nine saves.

Caldwell 14, Pompton Lakes 2

Junior Lily Caravela marked four goals while seniors Julia Duren-Lubanski and Kate Quinn each recorded a hat trick along with two assists as second-seeded Caldwell topped 15th-seeded Pompton Lakes 14-2 in the first round of the North Jersey Group 1 Tournament in West Caldwell.

Caldwell will next face seventh-seeded Westwood in the quarterfinal on Tuesday.

Sophomore Teagan Quinn tallied two goals and three assists and junior Gracie Suda scored twice for Caldwell (15-3), which won its fifth straight game.

Senior Grace Thornhill had a goal and an assist for Pompton Lakes (10-8) and junior Kaeley Sek added a goal.

Verona 15, Lenape Valley 2

Freshman Riley Kenrick had four goals and senior Ella Moore produced a hat trick along with four assists as third-seeded Verona defeated 14th-seeded Lenape Valley 15-2 in the first round of the North Jersey Group 1 Tournament in Verona.

Verona will next host sixth-seeded Kinnelon in the quarterfinal on Tuesday.

Freshman Jane Sorger and junior Clara Nippes each had two goals and an assist for Verona (13-5).

Senior Kayla Petrucelli and sophomore Alison Church each scored for Lenape Valley (8-8).

Westwood 10, Indian Hills 4

Senior Kayleigh Dunn finished with four goals to help pace seventh-seeded Westwood past 10th-seeded Indian Hills in the first round of the North Jersey Group 1 Tournament in Washington Township.

Westwood will next visit second-seeded Caldwell in the quarterfinal on Tuesday.

Senior Emily Gorham had two goals while senior goalie Kelly Dillingham finished with eight saves for Westwood (11-7).

Senior Chloe Tirino marked twice for Indian Hills (6-12).

Jefferson 14, Ramsey 11

Eighth-seeded Jefferson held off ninth-seeded Ramsey to move on from the first round of the North Jersey Group 1 Tournament in Oak Ridge with a 14-11 victory.

Jefferson (14-4), which won its fourth straight game, will next visit top-seeded Mountain Lakes in the quarterfinal on Tuesday.

Ramsey fell to 4-11.

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Football: Check out the preseason Essex County 8 rankings for the 2022 season

Essex County put together a banner year of high school football in 2021 as four teams won regional championships.The 2022 season gets started this weekend, and true state champions will be crowned for the first time.Will any Essex County teams be among the first batch of true state champion...

Essex County put together a banner year of high school football in 2021 as four teams won regional championships.

The 2022 season gets started this weekend, and true state champions will be crowned for the first time.

Will any Essex County teams be among the first batch of true state champions? That's still a few months away. For now, here are the preseason Essex County 8 rankings. (Last year's records are in parentheses.)

8. West Orange (7-4)

Three of the Mountaineers' four losses last year came against regional champions. Three-star recruit Saboor Karriem has garnered interest from colleges like Duke and Illinois after registering five interceptions as a junior. Georgia Tech commit Gensley Auguste and junior Zekhi Wimberly, who already has offers from the schools like Syracuse, lead a tough defense asked to combat some of the county's best offenses.

First game: Sept. 3 at. Montclair

7. Montclair (5-5)

The Mounties were a tough out last season, holding on against Passaic Tech in three overtimes before being eliminated in the first round of the state playoffs. Now, under the guidance of Jermain Johnson, can Montclair return among the elite in Essex County? Three straight years of .500 records have separated Montclair from the consistent success that made it the winningest program in the state of New Jersey.

First game: Sept. 3 vs. West Orange

6. Weequahic (7-5)

A late touchdown surrendered against Mountain Lakes prevented Weequahic from competing for a sectional title last fall, but the Indians' 2021 season flew under the radar with the rest of the county's success. Rashawn Marshall emerged as one of the county's top offensive weapons and he's back as a junior. Seniors Quentin Reid and Andre Jenkinson Jr. lead a defense that won't be fun to try and score against.

First game: Sept. 2 vs. Asbury Park

5. Cedar Grove (12-1)

The Panthers ended last season by winning the North Group 1 regional title at MetLife Stadium. Their only loss came during the regular season to Caldwell, which went on to win the North Group 2 regional title. Junior Nick Iannacone, who caught the game-winning touchdown in the regional final, leads a shifty and speedy offense. Seniors James Cantarelli and Denham Ingalls return after strong junior seasons on defense.

First game: Aug. 26 at Salem (at Ocean City HS)

4. Caldwell (12-0)

The Chiefs share the state's longest active win streak with Cedar Creek after going undefeated and winning the North Group 2 regional title last fall. Senior Luke Kurzum leads an offense that gained more than 4,000 total yards last season. The physical duo of junior Julian Casale and senior Harry Boland have been known to shut down opposing offenses, combining for 197 tackles during last season's championship run.

First game: Sept. 2 at Morris Catholic

3. East Orange Campus (13-0)

The Jaguars went undefeated on the way to the North Group 5 championship over Clifton, which ended in controversial fashion. East Orange will miss last year's senior class, as well as retired head coach Rae Oliver. Joshua Richards returns as a skilled receiver committed to Maryland, while senior BJ Covington returns as a lockdown defender in the secondary.

First game: Sept. 1 at Clifton

2. Seton Hall Prep (7-4)

The Pirates were the talk of the state high school football scene for a good chunk of last season, beating Don Bosco and holding their own with Bergen Catholic and St. Peter's Prep. Junior Jaylen McClain is already gaining a lot of recruiting attention with 19 Division I offers, while senior defensive back Darren Burton II is a Hampton commit that will guide a young and physical defense.

First game: Aug. 27 vs. Delbarton

1. Irvington (11-2)

The Blue Knights ended more than a century of waiting for a sectional title last fall, then upset previously-unbeaten Northern Highlands in the North Group 4 regional championship game at Rutgers. Senior Adon Shuler, a Notre Dame commit, returns to lead an Irvington defense among the most feared in the state. Senior receiver Famah Toure, a Rutgers commit and junior Kyshir Desir, a 1,000-yard rusher a season ago, are players to watch on a talented offense.

First game: Aug. 26 at Woodbridge

ALSO CONSIDERED: Newark West Side, Nutley, Verona

Take a hike: 5 stunning N.J. routes to check out along the Appalachian Trail

When asked which New Jersey spots are a must-visit along the Appalachian Trail (AT), Kevin Carnes responded simply: “You have 72 miles here in New Jersey, and it’s an exceptional set of woodlands that is so varied in topography and features I think anybody could find enjoyment almost anywhere on trail.”Carnes is a returning ridgerunner to the AT in New Jersey, a ro...

When asked which New Jersey spots are a must-visit along the Appalachian Trail (AT), Kevin Carnes responded simply: “You have 72 miles here in New Jersey, and it’s an exceptional set of woodlands that is so varied in topography and features I think anybody could find enjoyment almost anywhere on trail.”

Carnes is a returning ridgerunner to the AT in New Jersey, a role in which he covers every inch of the trail statewide to make sure it’s treated with respect by the hikers who flock here from all over the world. This job demands he know the route like the back of his hand, so you should trust his word — no matter where you go on the trail, you’ll be treated to some serious beauty.

That being said, following are some nice hikes you can take that bring out the best of the trail in the Garden State.

Dunnfield Creek to Sunfish Pond, Worthington State Forest

A little over 6.5 miles of the AT lies within the bounds of Worthington State Forest, and most of that mileage is beginner-friendly with a bonus of unbeatable scenery. Ernie Kabert, superintendent of the forest, provided some recommendations you’ll want to save for future reference.

“If people are first timers, I tell them generally to start at the Dunnfield Creek parking lot,” he said. “The trail is very wide down there and easy to follow. There’s usually a number of other people on the trail in that section, and it’s very nice because you don’t have to get very far from the parking lot to be out in the wilderness.”

If you want to be a bit more ambitious, there’s an attraction in the area with a solid effort-to-reward ratio: Sunfish Pond.

“The section from the Dunnfield Creek area to Sunfish Pond is an extremely popular hike. That’s about 3 miles in one direction, and it’s very pleasant,” he said. “The pond is one of the bigger attractions. The name of the pond comes from the fact that the water is very acidic so only a few hardy species of fish live in the pond, and one of those species is sunfish.”

Click here for an exact location of where to park. Follow all posted signs along the way.

Catfish Fire Tower is open occasionally during the active fire season in spring and fall, granting hikers an even greater view of the area. Photo by Alex Meyer

Raccoon Ridge and Catfish Fire Tower, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Over 20 miles of the Appalachian Trail can be found in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, showcasing the more rugged, isolated regions of New Jersey. An abundance of peace and quiet awaits alongside incredible views.

“The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (section of the AT) follows Raccoon Ridge and some other ridgelines for a great portion of it,” Carnes said. “You’ll see plenty of lakes and ponds, and Raccoon Ridge is routinely one of the most beautiful places you can walk along ever — in any season.”

Several miles north of Raccoon Ridge is an intriguing landmark, the Catfish Fire Tower. It’s open occasionally during the active fire season in spring and fall, granting hikers an even greater view of the area. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see as far as the Catskill Mountains.

If you’re looking for the path(s) of least resistance, park at the Mohican Outdoor Center located at 50 Camp Mohican Road in Blairstown. Walk up the road a couple hundred feet to the white-blazed trail and turn left for Catfish Fire Tower or right for Raccoon Ridge. Both routes are about 4 miles roundtrip each with a fair amount of rocky terrain.

In Stokes State Forest, Sunrise Mountain is an ideal spot to catch the sunrise and for birding. Photo by Jeff Conklin

Culver Fire Tower and Sunrise Mountain Overlook, Stokes State Forest

Stokes State Forest is a winner for those who want an easy hike thanks to its decent network of paved roads. One of the most notable highlights here is Sunrise Mountain, which — as its name suggests — is an ideal spot to catch the sunrise. Birding is also big, as the summit is situated along a major migratory route for raptors such as hawks, eagles and falcons.

Culver Fire Tower stands out for its panoramic views of valleys, forests and farmland that sprawl across the rolling terrain. Stick around a little longer in Stokes, and you’ll likely stumble on some cool history as well.

“Stokes State Forest is a giant tract of land that used to be farms,” Carnes said. “Some of it used to be Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps and it has gone entirely back to nature, so it is the place where you go to tuck into little, beautiful nooks and crannies and sheltered valleys and find some old stonework.”

For the Culver Fire Tower, park at 2 Vansickle Road in Sandyston and follow the white-blazed trail east-northeast for about a mile. For Sunrise Mountain Overlook, continue past the parking lot for the fire tower and follow Sunrise Mountain Road to the top. The overlook is a short hike from the parking lot and is marked by a stone pavilion.

You can drive to the tippy-top of New Jersey at High Point State Park, where a towering obelisk and 360-degree views make a memorable impression. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

High Point State Park

This one is about as easy of a hike as it gets along the AT, but the best part is you don’t have to actually hike. You can drive to the tippy-top of New Jersey at High Point State Park, where a towering obelisk and 360-degree views make a memorable impression. The 220-foot-tall landmark can be climbed on weekends and holidays in September and October, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

If you decide to follow the trail on its way north, you’ll descend a ridge through hemlock gorges and into former agricultural fields with a view of the surrounding countryside and the High Point Monument in the distance. It’s equally spectacular.

The park address is 1480 State Route 23 in Wantage, then follow the signs for High Point Monument.

The Pochuck Boardwalk is about as pretty of a sight you’ll ever see in New Jersey. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Pochuck Boardwalk and the Stairway to Heaven, Wawayanda State Park

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was saving the best for last. The Pochuck Boardwalk is one of those places that’s gotten a ton of attention on social media for its eye-catching path that wanders through a sea of marshlands and trees. Fun fact: The landscape below the boardwalk was once a prehistoric lake, but now it’s nothing but bucolic perfection. Follow the boards for a mile and a half, then you’ll pass over a suspension bridge and into a cow pasture. (Do not approach the cows.)

After walking with the cows, you’ll work your way up a series of steep rock slabs affectionately called the “Stairway to Heaven.” Why heaven? You’ll see once you get to the top and witness the divine visuals at Pinwheel Vista. Just note that this hike is not the easiest; it’s 2.6 miles roundtrip with lots of rocks.

There are designated parking areas along Route 517, past Meadowlark Drive. Arrive earlier to avoid the crowds.

A lesser-known option to try is the Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, which is only a couple minutes’ drive from Pochuck Boardwalk. It’s one of the AT’s best-kept secrets in New Jersey.

“Wallkill Nature Preserve is stunningly gorgeous,” Carnes said. “It is one of those wetland areas where they have a retention pond so you can see migrant waterfowl and wildlife chilling out.”

While you’re in the area …

Be sure to check out Heaven Hill Farm for Garden State-grown food and drinks, along with herbs, oils and plants. It’s located just off the AT, where it intersects Route 94 before the Stairway to Heaven begins. Great Gorge Golf Club is another nearby activity option known for its treetop adventure park. Take a drive around and you’ll see many cute towns, like Vernon, Wantage and Sparta. Happy trails!

Hunter Hulbert is the Just in Jersey features writer for Jersey’s Best magazine. Have a suggestion for a story? Contact him at [email protected]. To read more stories like this, click here.

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Shout it from the Mountain: Lakes wins last boys lacrosse TOC in historic fashion

The Mountain Lakes players made it clear that they didn’t just want to win the final Tournament of Champions is boys lacrosse. They wanted to make a statement.A statement that certified how talented they were, how hard they were willing to work for and with one another, and also how very important it was to show the NJSIAA that the Tournament of Champions is a viable platform that should not be dissolved because it gives Group 1 and 2 schools the opportunity to prove themselves as the premier teams in the Garden State.Thi...

The Mountain Lakes players made it clear that they didn’t just want to win the final Tournament of Champions is boys lacrosse. They wanted to make a statement.

A statement that certified how talented they were, how hard they were willing to work for and with one another, and also how very important it was to show the NJSIAA that the Tournament of Champions is a viable platform that should not be dissolved because it gives Group 1 and 2 schools the opportunity to prove themselves as the premier teams in the Garden State.

This, however, was no mere statement generated by Mountain Lakes. This was a booming thunderclap that rattled some windows in the first quarter, kept rolling along over the next three and is probably still echoing in the valleys of the Watchung Mountains as we speak.

Mountain Lakes, ranked No. 1 in NJ.com but seeded third, forged a five-goal lead in the first quarter behind some creative dodging and shooting, and continued to build upon that advantage with strong, steady swipes on its way to a 21-5 victory over No. 5 and top-seeded Rumson-Fair Haven in the 18th and final TOC Monday afternoon at Ridge High in Basking Ridge.

“Yes, we wanted to make a statement. Our motto was ‘Last one, best one,’ and we wanted to make it just that,” senior attackman Reid Tietjen said. “It’s a shame this is the last TOC, but we wanted to end it on a great note.”

Senior middie Caz Kotsen struck for five goals, two in that first quarter, senior attackman Bradford Goodbar scored three goals and assisted on two, Tietjen contributed two goals and four assists, and brothers Justin and Jordan Hernando won a combined 26 of 29 faceoffs to send Mountain Lakes (22-1) to its fourth TOC title with a record number of goals that produced the most lopsided championship win in the platform’s history.

Previously, the widest margin of victory and record for goals was accomplished by Delbarton with an 18-8 decision over Mountain Lakes in the 2006 final.

Delbarton has won a record seven TOC crowns while Mountain Lakes now holds the mark among public schools with four. The Lakers and Bridgewater were tied with three trophies each.

This Mountain Lakes team was so on target and also so stifling on the opposite end of the field against one of the most feared offenses in New Jersey that it scored 16 goals before the third quarter was completed. Remarkably, the Lakers seized a 15-3 lead with 5:36 to go in that quarter to initiate a running clock, which takes effect once a team establishes a 12-goal lead in the second half.

“I don’t think anyone could have expected this with how good a team Rumson is, but we came out to play today,” Kotsen said. “I was so proud of my guys, so proud of my team for all the work we put in this past week. This was the result of that work, I guess. It was really amazing.”

Amazing is a word that has been associated with Kotsen in recent games after plunking down five goals in the semifinals against St. Augustine, 10-5, and collecting three goals and one assist in the quarterfinals against Rutgers Prep, 14-4.

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But in this contest against Rumson-Fair Haven, there really wasn’t a single player on the field for Mountain Lakes that did not earn that adjective.

For instance, Ryan McLaughlin, Gavin Ananian, Nate Holiday, Lucas Sawransky and shortstick middies Ben Buzby, Oliver Bush and Marco Dzamba anchored a defense that held Rumson (22-5) to 9.3 goals below its per-game average. Senior goalie Jimmy Holda made four saves in the first half and junior Matt Sentowsky rejected four shots in the second half to support that hard-nosed defense.

At the other end of the turf, the Lakers painted a masterpiece with 21 goals on 37 shots, and with 12 players connecting at least once for a goal. Senior middie John Lane sank two of those goals and also assisted on one, and the Hernando brothers each scored once in transition directly off a won faceoff.

Rumson-Fair Haven was led by junior attackman Quinn Stankovits with two goals and senior middie Phil Passalaqua with one goal and one assist.

“This is a very strong and a great senior class. It’s a team with great leadership, the kids love one another, they come from great families, and they got better every day,” Mountain Lakes head coach Tim Flynn said. He has guided the Lakers to nine overall state championships (five before the TOC began in 2004) and now has 715 career victories, the most by far in state history.

“We practiced with 42 kids, and the last kid on the roster was giving his all every day in practice to make everyone a little bit better. A beautiful thing to see,” Flynn said.

Mountain Lakes had been building toward this spectacular sendoff since absorbing its only loss, 12-6, to then-No. 2 Don Bosco Prep on April 23. The Lakers outscored their five opponents in the Group 1 tournament 74-10, topped Rutgers Prep by 10 in the TOC quarters, but then ran into trouble against St. Augustine in the semis. Mountain Lakes led by one goal at the half, but pulled away after the break for that 10-5 win.

“We were saying all year long that we hadn’t played our best game yet. Good, but not our best,” Flynn said.

And now, coach?

“This is what you hope for as a coach; that your kids are going to put everything together at the most important time, and they did. Really, as a coaching staff, we just sat back in this game and watched. We didn’t do much coaching because we just didn’t have to.”

Schuckman sank the opening goal of the game with a lefthanded bouncer from 16 yards out with 6:36 to go in the first quarter. Kotsen then sank back-to-back goals off impressive dodges for a three-goal lead with 3:32 left in the period. Jordan Hernando struck just six seconds later when he won the faceoff and sprinted down the middle of the box and fired away. Jimmy Elliot made it a five-goal game with 1:32 to go.

Rumson-Fair Haven showed both the determination and the shooting skills that led it to the program’s second state title by sinking the first two goals of the second quarter - Passalaqua and then Stankovits - to cut the deficit to three.

Kotsen scored his third goal when he slipped trying to dodge a defender, sprang to his feet and delivered a rocket from 14 yards out for a 6-2 lead with 2:36 left in the half. Christian Bockelmann scored off a pass from Passalaqua to make it 6-3 with 1:43 to go.

At that point, it seemed as if Rumson had ironed away its early miscues and found its balance. And then Mountain Lakes ended that quarter with a three-goal spree in just 16 seconds to carry a 9-3 lead into the second half. Buzby launched it when it trucked the ball across midfield and scored unsettled, and then Tietjen and Goodbar followed.

“We’ve got six offensive guys on the field at all times that can score. That’s hats off to the offense. They do their jobs better than anyone else in the state,” McLaughlin said.

Of course, that offense has to try finding shots each practice against McLaughlin and his tenacious group. It can be very frustrating at times for the shooters, though it is also a constant exercise in skill sharpening.

The Laker defense was in general outstanding, and McLaughlin, a UPenn commit, was especially effective, holding his man without a goal or assist.

Looking to make that statement, Mr. McLaughlin?

“Of course we were. We were looking to make a statement when they put us as the three seed int the TOC,” he said. “We’re the underdogs in a lot of circumstances and we wanted to prove everyone wrong today.”

Next year, Mountain Lakes would be far less likely to carry underdog status into the tournament since it will stop cold after the Group 1 final. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Executive Committee voted overwhelmingly last December to end the TOC format after this school year, essentially so sports can extend their regular seasons and teams can have more practice time in between sport seasons.

“I hate it. This tournament is Group 1 against Group 2 and that shows that anyone can be in it, anyone can win it. It would have been a shame to me if my season had ended three days ago,” Kotsen said.

“It’s a travesty, and you can quote me on that,” Flynn said. “Group 1 and Group 2 and it’s their (Rumson) first time here. You don’t think they want to come back? You don’t think we want to come back?

“Lacrosse has always been down to one on the field and it’s a beautiful thing. There are other sates that are jealous. They are jealous because we do that and no one else does,” Flynn said. “Nobody runs, nobody hides, you’ve got to play.”

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No. 1 Mountain Lakes boys lacrosse goes south for TOC, tops No. 2 St. Augustine (PHOTOS)

Senior Reid Tietjen and his teammates at Mountain Lakes had 128 miles to think about what they were going to do when they stepped off the bus and faced off with St. Augustine in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle.Two hours to go over strategy and amp themselves up for the biggest game of the year.That’s a lifetime for a group of kids that has been waiting all year to book a spot in the last Tournament of Champions final. The buildup was already more than enough, but Mountain Lakes had to wait even longer after a tire blew ou...

Senior Reid Tietjen and his teammates at Mountain Lakes had 128 miles to think about what they were going to do when they stepped off the bus and faced off with St. Augustine in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle.

Two hours to go over strategy and amp themselves up for the biggest game of the year.

That’s a lifetime for a group of kids that has been waiting all year to book a spot in the last Tournament of Champions final. The buildup was already more than enough, but Mountain Lakes had to wait even longer after a tire blew out on their bus. Not an ideal start on the day of the TOC semifinals.

The Lakers, No. 1 in the NJ.com Top 20, never let any fatigue show once they arrived in Richland though, playing even or ahead for the entirety of a 10-5 victory over No. 2 St. Augustine. Mountain Lakes now advances to Sunday’s TOC final, where it will play No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven in the title game.

“It was pretty distracting, but once we got here, everyone was dialed in,” said Tietjen, who scored three goals and sent out two assists. “This was such a big game for us and we were all locked in. We tried to stay loose on the way down here and then once it started, we had so much adrenaline. We thought we got gypped out of the No. 1 seed, so it was awesome to show up and show how good we can really be.”

St. Augustine’s only loss before today came against prep power Lawrenceville.

The Hermits rattled off 14 straight wins after that game and entered Wednesday playing as well as anyone in the state. St. Augustine picked up wins over No. 11 St. Joseph (Mont.), No. 7 Seton Hall Prep and No. 3 Delbarton on its way to winning the program’s first-ever Non-Public A championship.

The South Jersey squad also beat No. 19 Shawnee, No. 15 Haddonfield and No. 5 Rumson-Fair Haven - the top seed in the Tournament of Champions - during the regular season. That strong schedule built up a strong enough LaxNumbers rating to earn St. Augustine the No. 2 seed in the state’s ultimate bracket.

And that ranking came with the gift of hosting in the TOC semifinals.

On the flip side, that meant Mountain Lakes would have to play in the first round of the TOC - a 14-4 win over Rutgers Prep - and then load up the bus and make its longest road trip of the season. It’s not the way that the Lakers pictured it playing out and the No. 3 seed its their frustration fuel a dominant semifinal win.

“We hated it,” senior Caz Kotsen said of the seeding. “We were pissed we weren’t the higher seed and we were pissed we had to make the drive, but we also knew we weren’t coming down here to lose.”

For the first 24 minutes, this game lived up to the No. 1 vs. No. 2 billing.

Kotsen scored the only goal of the first quarter, scooping up his own rebound and shoveling it into the back of the net. That was the first of a season-high goals for the senior, who also scored the last goal of the first half and gave Mountain Lakes a 4-3 lead going into the break. It was anyone’s game.

Then, Mountain Lakes completely took over.

The Lakers’ offense put together arguably its best quarter of the season and the defense did not budge, holding St. Augustine to one goal and just a few shots on net during that period. Kotsen scored twice in the third and led an attack that also got scores from Tietjen, Bradford Goodbar and Jake Troisi.

After St. Augustine tied it up at 3-3 in the first half, Mountain Lakes went on a 6-0 run.

It was a resurrection for an offense that struggled late in the Group 1 final against Haddonfield after cruising through the sectional playoffs. That attack was sort of lulled to sleep during its run to the North, Group 1 title and along the way it lost some of the rhythm and flow it had built up in the regular season.

The offense woke up against St. Augustine though and lit it up against one of the state’s best defenses. Only Lawrenceville and Rumson-Fair Haven had scored double-digit goals against the Hermits.

”Today, that Hermit defense came out, brought it every play and (St. Augustine) made us work for our goals. It was great to watch us come together and pick apart a defense that was evenly matched with us,” said Kotsen. “We came out of halftime with a ton of energy. We spent hours watching film for this game and we knew if we executed our offense the right way, we could give it to them. It took the first half to get used to their early slides and how they rotate, but once we figured it out, we let them have it in the third quarter. That was probably the best I’ve seen our offense play all year.”

Two years ago, Mountain Lakes went the distance and won the Tournament of Champions.

Last season, the Lakers went home early, losing to Summit in the semifinal round.

Now, Mountain Lakes is one win away from winning the last TOC title. New Jersey has always played down to one champion in boys lacrosse, but the NJSIAA decided to eliminate the Tournament of Champions in all sports this year and that makes this weekend’s final an all-timer.

That’s makes Sunday’s trip to Mount Olive an all-timer for this legendary program. No one else in New Jersey has won more state championships than Mountain Lakes and it’s fitting that the Lakers would get the chance to have the final say in who the best of the best in the Garden State is.

Tietjen said this is a dream come true for the seniors and they’re not going to waste the opportunity.

“We knew coming into the year that our goal was to bring that last Tournament of Champions title home,” Kotsen added. “We knew we were going to have to take care of these private schools to get there and now that we’ve done it, we’re excited to play in that last championship game.”

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