PHOTO BY STEVEN ELLMORE – Cranford reached the UCT semifinals for the second straight season and for the fourth time in the past five. Cranford won the crown in 2000 and 2009 and reached the final again in 2013.
With wins in its last two matches the Cranford girls’ soccer team not only moved above .500 with a record of 8-6-1, but the Cougars – for the fourth time in the past five seasons – reached the Union County Tournament semifinals.
In order to reach the championship game for the first time since 2013, Cranford will have to defeat second-seeded and six-time defending champion Scotch Plains in Friday’s 5:30 p.m. semifinal at Johnson High School’s Nolan Field in Clark.
That will be a tall task considering the fact that the Raiders have reached the final the past 11 seasons, winning all 10 of their titles in that span.
“We played them once (Sept. 13 at Scotch Plains) and although we lost 2-1, we felt like the entire second half was ours,” said Cranford first-year head coach Andrew Gagliardo.
Before Friday’s UCT semifinal, Cranford has a Union County Conference-Watchung Division home game against Westfield Wednesday at 4 p.m.
The game was originally scheduled to be played Thursday, but moved up a day so that both Westfield and Cranford could have a day off before playing in the UCT semifinals.
The second UCT semifinal pits fourth-seeded Oak Knoll vs. top-seeded Westfield Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Johnson.
“Westfield is nationally ranked and we were the first team to score on them,” Gagliardo said. “If you can’t get up for games against Westfield and Scotch Plains back-to-back you shouldn’t be playing.”
On Oct. 13 under the lights at Memorial Field, Cranford hosted Governor Livingston on Seniors Night. The Cougars rolled 5-1, winning their seventh match.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Gagliardo said.
Sophomore Kenzie Butler scored twice and sophomore Ana Dzunova, senior Grace McLear and sophomore Lauren Williamson once.
“That match gave us momentum going into our UCT quarterfinal match against Union Catholic,” Gagliardo said.
Williamson scored first and junior Ana Kalafatis second in Saturday’s 2-0 home win over 14th-seeded Union Catholic. Cougar senior goalkeeper Cam Hay made five saves for the shutout.
“We played how we wanted to play and had about 90 percent of the possession,” Gagliardo said. “The score could have easily been 3-0 or 4-0. We had other really good chances that just missed.”
Gagliardo this year succeeded highly-successful head coach Jen Michewicz, who guided Cranford to the 2009 UCT championship and the 2013 UCT final. An All-America selection and two-year captain at Seton Hall, the Pottstown, Pa. native took over as Cranford’s head coach in 2008.
Gagliardo was the junior varsity coach in 2013 and a varsity assistant the past two years.
“Jen did such a great job,” Gagliardo said.
Gagliardo is a 2005 Union graduate who played for former longtime Union head coach Jim Jeskey. He also played at Montclair State.
“I’ve been coaching since age 23 and it was always a goal of mine to be a head coach,” said Gagliardo, who was the JV boys’ coach at Union in 2008 and 2009, the first two years of present head coach Lester Lembryk’s tenure.
“I always knew this is what I wanted to do,” Gagliardo said. “I always wanted to coach where I teach (health and physical education) and that’s what I’m doing now.”
After the county tournament, Cranford still has a division match scheduled at Union Oct. 27 and then the Cougars will look forward to competing in the North 2, Group 3 playoffs.
“I had two goals coming into the season,” said Gagliardo, who began his first season at the helm of the Cougars at the end of July. “I wanted to finish above .500 and at least reach the quarterfinals of the county tournament.”
Three of Cranford’s six losses have come to state-ranked teams Hunterdon Central (2-0), Scotch Plains (2-1) and Westfield (2-1) – all on the road.
“We were right there in all of those matches,” Gagliardo said.
2016 CRANFORD COUGARS
GK-Cam Hay, senior
4-Grace DiGiovanni, sophomore
22-Kat Mackenzie, senior
5-Maya Lawler, senior
12-Caroline McCaffery, junior
21-Megan Montague, junior
10-Maggie Roman, junior
17-Ana Dzunova, sophomore
3-Kenzie Butler, sophomore
6-Katie Romanovich, senior
13-Lauren Williamson, sophomore
GK-Dana Acocella, senior
14-Jill DeVoti, senior
24-Delaney Fay, senior
9-Ana Kalafatis, junior
8-Caitlin Kalnins, senior
15-Grace McLear, senior
7-Maggie Murray, freshman
18-Caroline Plick, senior
16-Megan Reilly, senior
25-Brianna Scotti, senior
2-Jacqueline Smith, sophomore
23-Sarah Sterling, senior
11-Lindsay Wielgus, junior
Head coach: Andrew Gagliardo, first season
Returning starters (8):
Hay, DiGiovanni, Mackenzie, Lawler,
McCaffery, Dzunova, Romanovich, Williamson
Hay, Mackenzie, Romanovich
UCT GIRLS’ SOCCER
FRIDAY, OCT. 21
AT JOHNSON HIGH SCHOOL’S
NOLAN FIELD IN CLARK
3-Cranford vs. 2-Scotch Plains, 5:30 p.m.
4-Oak Knoll vs. 1-Westfield, 7:30 p.m.
UCT GIRLS’ SOCCER CHAMPIONS
2015: Scotch Plains 2, Westfield 1
2014: Scotch Plains 1, Union 0 (2OT)
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: Gov. 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
1994: Westfield 2, Johnson 1
1993: Union Catholic
CHAMPIONSHIPS: Westfield 19 (3 shared),
Scotch Plains 10 (2 shared), Union Catholic 4,
Cranford 2, Oak Knoll 2 (1 shared), GL 1.