Newton Braves take the championship

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NEWTON — Kinnelon couldn’t do it. Elmwood Park couldn’t do it. Mountain Lakes couldn’t do it. Mahwah couldn’t do it. Cliffside Park couldn’t do it. Holmdel couldn’t do it. Not even a hurricane could prevent this year’s Newton Braves boys’ soccer team from doing something that no other soccer team in Sussex County had ever done.

The most successful high school soccer season in county history culminated Saturday, Dec. 1 at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, with the Braves upsetting Holmdel 3-1 to capture the 2012 NJSIAA Group 2 State Championship in front of a boisterous, pro-Newton crowd.

After an uncharacteristic shaky start that saw Holmdel jump out to a 1-0 lead in just the third minute of the match, things didn’t look good for the Braves – particularly considering Holmdel was the favorite, was ranked 10 in the state, had recorded 16 shutouts, and had allowed only 10 goals in 23 matches during the season.

However, just a minute later, senior outside midfielder Ryan Brewster made sure Holmdel’s lead was short-lived, firing a rebound of his own shot past Holmdel’s esteemed keeper to tie the score and send the Braves’ faithful into a frenzy.

Then when junior outside midfielder Matt Cespedes headed home a pass from junior defender Chris Guth, off a textbook corner kick from senior center midfielder Andy Weber, to give Newton a 2-1 lead, it became clear that the resilient Braves were on a mission.

In the 36th minute, junior outside midfielder Frank Heter served a ball into the penalty area that junior forward Leo Recalde flicked to fellow junior forward Ryan Cronin, on the right side, who ripped a volley past the helpless keeper and into the side netting for his 19 goal of the season and a 3-1 Braves lead.

From there, head coach Pat Brennan’s trademark team defense did the rest, stifling Holmdel’s attack. Led by senior keeper Kyle Morel, senior defenders Brady Castle and TJ Chrustic, and juniors Jake Gutowski, Guth, and Brett Conrads – who normally controls the central midfield with Weber but was moved back to central defense when Guth was ejected with 21 minutes remaining for receiving his second yellow card of the match – the Braves’ defense was virtually impossible to penetrate, as it was all tournament long. In six state tournament matches, Morel and the Braves’ defense surrendered only three goals.

Following their chartered bus ride home from the historic win, the Braves were greeted in Andover by a convoy of fire engines and police cars – as well as throngs of appreciative fans – and were escorted through Newton Square and to the high school, where they were greeted by Newton Mayor Helen R. LeFrois, Dan Cleary and the Mugs Media crew, the Newton boys basketball team, and countless ecstatic fans.

Newton kicked off the tournament on Sunday, Oct. 28, with a 4-0 win against Kinnelon, in the first-ever state tournament game played on the new turf at Palmer Field.

The Braves finished the 2012 season with 23 wins and 4 losses, with the 23 wins setting a new school record. Combined with last year’s 18-4-2 state sectional championship team, the team has won an astounding 41 games the last two seasons. The Braves ended their season with eight consecutive wins, and went an incredible 18-1 in their last 19 games.

Highlights from the regular season included: a 2-0 win over Kittatinny on Oct. 28 that wrapped up the Braves’ fourth consecutive Freedom Division title; an overtime home win against North Hunterdon in the H/W/S Tournament; an overtime home win against Hackettstown; and an inspiring turf field Dedication Day effort in an overtime loss to St. Peter’s Prep, who was ranked 16th in the state at the time.

Also contributing during the Braves’ storybook season were junior midfielder Chris Marin, junior defender Luke Butler, freshman forward Kevin Sosa, senior forward Nick Cowie, senior defender Ethan Muller, senior forward Paul Kelusak, sophomore defender Jeremy Henegan, sophomore keeper Jamie Power, and freshman keeper Tanner Euston. Helping out Brennan – who earned his 100 win in just his seventh season as the Braves’ head coach – on the sidelines were assistant coaches Brian “Shaggy” Martin, Tyler Conrads, Sue Desautels, and Dan Carbone.

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