Union girls’ soccer to play in first UCT championship game; Will face 4-time defending champion Scotch Plains

Farmers blanked GL 2-0 in semifinals behind goals from forwards Natalie Caggiano and Nneka Moneme; senior goalie Rivero made 5 saves for shutout

PHOTO COURTESY OF PHYLLIS NESHIMKA - The Union girls' soccer team reached its first UCT championship game.
PHOTO COURTESY OF PHYLLIS NESHIMKA – The Union girls’ soccer team reached its first UCT championship game.
PHOTO COURTESY OF PHYLLIS NESHIMKA - The Union girls' soccer team will face 4-time defending champion Scotch Plains in the Union County Tournament championship game.
PHOTO COURTESY OF PHYLLIS NESHIMKA – The Union girls’ soccer team will face 4-time defending champion Scotch Plains in the Union County Tournament championship game.

For the Union Farmers this is unchartered territory.

For their opponent – the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Raiders – the total opposite can be said.

Scotch Plains will be playing in its 10th consecutive championship game.

Union is preparing to make its debut in the final.

Despite that disparity, these teams know each other well, having faced one another twice a season, including a battle in last year’s semifinals that went right down to the wire.

This Sunday’s 34th annual girls’ soccer Union County Tournament championship game between third-seeded Union and top-seeded and four-time defending champion Scotch Plains has the makings of a team very hungry for its first championship – Union – vs. the favorite – Scotch Plains – that has been there before and done that.

The clash is set to kick off Sunday at 6 p.m. at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium in Union.

After losing to Governor Livingston twice in two tries in the regular season, Union defeated the Highlanders 2-0 in the semifinals behind goals from forwards Natalie Caggiano and Nneka Moneme. Senior goalkeeper Stephanie Rivero made five saves for the shutout.

Union defeated GL 1-0 in last year’s quarterfinals to reach the semifinals for only the second time and first time since 2001. Like this year, Union was swept by GL in two regular season games.

The third time was a charm last year and this year for Union, this time putting the Farmers in the final for the initial time.

“Last year we beat GL to get to the semifinals, which was only the second time Union got that far, and this year we beat them to get to the final, which is for the first time.

“It was kind of a surreal feeling. We won and now we’re in the championship game. What do we do from here?”

What Union will be trying to do is to score a goal for the first time against Scotch Plains since last year’s semifinals, which was a 2-1 Raider victory.

Gina Alfano gave Union a 1-0 lead in last year’s semifinals before Tori Baliatico tied the game 30 seconds later. Katherine Cunningham, on a free kick, scored the game-winner in the 79th minute.

This year, the teams opened in Scotch Plains, with the Raiders winning 3-0 on Sept. 5. When the teams played in Union on Oct. 2 the final result was a 0-0 draw.

“The 3-0 loss was a learning experience,” said second-year Union head coach Phyllis Neshimka. “We have history with Scotch Plains the last two years. It starts to be a battle that goes back and forth.”

Scotch Plains is 6-1-2 in the last nine UCT finals, winning six outright titles and sharing two. The Raiders have won eight UCT titles overall, all since the first final they made, which was in 2005.

The only year since 2005 that Scotch Plains has not won the UCT outright or shared it was in 2009 when the Raiders fell to Cranford 1-0 in the final played at Johnson High School’s Nolan Field in Clark.

Scotch Plains was also a four-time defending UCT champion that night, so the Raiders can be had if Union plays to its full potential.

Union has reached the semifinals now in 2001, 2013 and 2014.

“Reaching the final for the first time is huge for us,” Neshimka said. “We had an amazing game against GL. We’ve felt since Aug. 11 that we needed to make the final this year.”

Union has seven seniors among its starting 11, including Natalie Caggiano, who also scored the only goal in Union’s 1-0 quarterfinal win over GL last season.

“I have confidence in my entire starting 11,” said Neshimka, who was previously an assistant coach at Union for four seasons from 2009-2012 under Eric Shaw. Now in his second season as the head boys’ coach at Westfield, Shaw has guided the Blue Devils to the boys’ championship game, which will be against three-time defending champion Scotch Plains Saturday night at 7 at Kean.

Shaw helped lead Union – as a standout goalkeeper – to the 1990 UCT championship his sophomore season. He blanked Elizabeth 3-0 in the title contest.

Neshimka, a 2000 Union Catholic graduate, helped lead the Vikings to UCT championships her sophomore, junior and senior seasons of 1997, 1998 and 1999.

“It’s kind of weird and ironic that we both got to the championship game our second years,” Neshimka said.

Baliatico is a player to watch for Scotch Plains. A senior forward, last year she scored the game’s only goal when the Raiders defeated Cranford 1-0 in the championship game played at Kean.

Union improved to 9-5-3 with a 3-0 home win over Elizabeth Monday.

“We have two modes,” Neshimka said. “Against Elizabeth we won, but were very lax. Against GL, with something on the line, people were saying, ‘we were really on.’”

Scotch Plains began the week at 14-0-2. The Raiders blanked Westfield 1-0 in their semifinal.

 

UNION’S STARTING 11

4-4-2 FORMATION:

 

Goalkeeper – Stephanie Rivero, senior

 

Sweeper – Adora Moneme, senior

Stopper – Sam Pereira, senior

Wing defender – Krystle Vera, senior

Wing defender – Gina Alfano, junior

 

Midfielder on the wing – Nicole Araujo, senior

Midfielder – Vanessa Leite, senior

Midfielder – Melissa Sousa, sophomore

Midfielder – Alyssa Caggiano, sophomore

 

Forward – Natalie Caggiano, senior

Forward – Nneka Moneme, sophomore

 

 

UCT GIRLS’ SOCCER CHAMPIONSHIP

SCORES AND WINNERS:

 

2014: 3-Union vs. 1-Scotch Plains – Sunday at Kean, 6 p.m.

 

2013: Scotch Plains 1, Cranford 0

 

2012: Scotch Plains 1, Westfield 1 – co-champs

 

2011: Scotch Plains 1, Westfield 0

 

2010: Scotch Plains 2, Westfield 0

 

2009: Cranford 1, Scotch Plains 0

 

2008: Scotch Plains 3, Johnson 0

 

2007: Scotch Plains 1, Westfield 0

 

2006: Scotch Plains 1, Westfield 1 – co-champs

 

2005: Scotch Plains 1, Oak Knoll 0

 

2004: Governor Livingston 1, Cranford 0

 

2003: Oak Knoll 5, Gov. Livingston 0

 

2002: Westfield 1, Oak Knoll 1 – co-champs

 

2001: Westfield 2, New Providence 0

 

2000: Cranford 3, Union Catholic 1

 

1999: Union Catholic 4, Cranford 1

 

1998: Union Catholic 1, Cranford 0

 

1997: Union Catholic 2, Scotch Plains 0

 

1996: Westfield

 

1995: Westfield

 

1994: Westfield 2, Johnson 1

 

1993: Union Catholic

 

1992: Westfield

 

1991: Westfield

 

1990: Westfield

 

1989: Westfield

 

1988: Westfield

 

1987: Westfield

 

1986: Westfield

 

1985: Westfield

 

1984: Westfield

 

1983: Westfield

 

1982: Westfield

 

1981: Westfield

 

CHAMPIONSHIPS:

 

Westfield 19

 

Scotch Plains 8

 

Union Catholic 4

 

Cranford 2

 

Oak Knoll 2

 

Governor Livingston 1

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