By Laurie Gordon
On Thursday evening, members of the Kittatinny High School girls' soccer team will be decked out in fancy dresses and heels heading to the homecoming dance. But when they take to the field, they epitomize the physical and mental fortitude, speed, endurance, instinct and skills that soccer is all about.
Head Coach Matt Majka's coaching philosophy is a reflection on the positive culture that manifests in Kittatinny.
“It is my hope that everyone players, parents, and school communityview the decisions that we make, and the culture that we have created as all based on what is best for the overall health of the program," he said. "The older girls understand the value that every player contributes to the team and go out of their way to make everyone feel like they are important to the team.”
The team is small yet powerful.
“Because we are a small team, everyone knows that positions and playing time are never guaranteed. We typically play the strongest 11 girls on that day. That may mean a players sees considerable time one day, but very little the next.”
Majka is his 17th season as Head Girls' Coach. He's been teaching for 18 years at Kittatinny, specializing in Social Studies, American History and AP United States Government and Politics.
Girls' soccer begins in the scorching summer, with captain's practices.
“Over the summer we are really just trying to keep a foot on the ball,” Majka said. “We build in some fitness and some technical practice, but we are primarily scrimmaging and having fun. The goal is to get as many girls to show up as possible and to make sure that we come into the season with some baseline fitness and aren't completely knocking off the rust during the first few weeks of the preseason.”
Though everyone on the team is important, Majka cited several pivotal players.
Natalie Mattar is the team's senior goalie.
“She's a three year varsity starter and one of the best goalies in the area,” he said.
He said that senior center back Ava Brook is a fouryear varsity starter and “runs the team's defense,” and senior Jordan Boersing is also a fouryear varsity starter who, “does whatever we need her to do,”
“She's basically the universal soldier of the team,” Majka said.
Two other key players on Kittatinny's team are committed to Division One universities. Senior Olivia Redden is a fouryear varsity starter and will be playing for Fordham University next year.
“She's the heart and soul of the team,” Majka said. 'She helps control the center of the field.”
With the ability to send the ball flying through the air with the greatest of ease to set up a play and sometimes land in the net from as far out as quarter field out, Redden is essential on and off the field. When she's not tearing it up on the field, she's encouraging all of the players to do their best and getting them pumped up for games in the halls, through social media or at a pasta dinner. Redden said she put a lot of thought into choosing to play for Fordham next year.
“For girls soccer, although it has since changed, the recruiting process starts extremely early,” she said. “I got recruited at showcases through my club soccer team at many ECNL events.”
She went on a number of college visits and tours with coaches and decided to join the Fordham Rams.
“It meant so much to me that I was able to get this opportunity as a sophomore because I had worked so hard and put so much time into the sport I love,” Redden said. “My dream was to play Division 1 soccer at a prestigious academic school and Fordham was the perfect fit for me. I fell in love with the school the second I stepped onto the campus and I am so thankful and excited to continue my academic and soccer career at Fordham.”
Lauren Wrigley is a junior and has the unique ability to dribble the ball through the most impressive of defensive set ups. Her agility and technique have left many a defender baffled.
“She runs our midfield and is arguably the best player in the area,” Majka said.
Wrigley committed to play for the University of North Carolina as a freshman, something very unique.
“I received an offer to play soccer at the University of North Carolina in May of my freshman year,” she said. “My team traveled to our first big showcase down in Florida earlier in the year.”
As soon as she arrived home, Wrigley was in contact with a growing list of schools.
“North Carolina jumped out on that list, and I knew after taking just one unofficial visit it was the school for me,” she said.
Wrigley said that the offer to play under such a great coaching staff as well as join a program that fit her so well as a person and as a player made her decision easy.
“In choosing a school, I wanted to make sure that I was joining a program that would provide me with a challenge and a chance to learn more about myself on and off the field. I was drawn to the world class facilities, especially with the building of the new soccer and lacrosse stadium. The soccer culture and love for the game at North Carolina is not one I could find elsewhere. There are no words to describe how excited I am for this opportunity and I am one hundred percent certain I made the right decision.”
Wrigley enjoys the soccer culture at Kittatinny.
“The soccer culture is unique in that we have a bunch of girls who have grown up playing soccer together. We know everything about each other both as people and as athletes...how to pick a specific person up when they are having a bad day, each person’s strengths, etc. We are a very tightknit team for that reason with a bunch of girls who have bonded through a shared passion for the game and who will do anything for their teammates.”
“The soccer culture at Kittatinny is extremely unique,” she said. “When you join the soccer team, you are welcomed into our family no matter if you are a freshman or a senior. We all push each other to be the best that we can be. This year we are extra unique because our seniors take pride in being leaders on and off the field. We have put in a lot of effort to make this season the best one yet.”
The program is a composite of enjoying the sport and the team.
“This year’s team is so special because we have all bonded so well and have become sisters. The bond that we have is unbreakable and has got us to where we are so far in this season. We are family on and off the field, and it has made this year so much fun,” Redden said. “There are ups and downs in every season and I feel like we always pick each other up when we make mistakes and thrive on each other's successes.”
“We have so much fun when we are around each other,” Wrigley said. “Honestly, I have never seen a group of girls who get along so well. As an upperclassmen, I know that us older girls have made it clear that there is to be no drama or cliques. That standard is evident as the team is constantly dancing, singing, laughing, or just simply having a ton of fun as one big group. When we step on the field, we mean business. As a result of our closeness off the field, we are able to trust each other and fight for one another. Every girl is playing this game because they love it and through that shared passion we have found success.”
Majka feels the off field team bonding helps the program gel.
“Although we have a number of players who play both JV and Varsity, we also have a number to play on only one level,” he said. “During games and practices, we are often divided by ability level, which can lead to a divide in the program. Having everyone get together for all of the off field activities, helps keep everyone together and helps maintain the relationships between all of the girls regardless of skill level, or the role they play on the field.”
Redden added, “Our team bonded from day one this year in preseason. We got together a lot over the summer and had team bonding events. Our team bonded so quickly and our upperclassmen made sure of that. We have come a long way since the start of the season and we are like a family. We have improved drastically and we hope to keep this momentum going for the rest of the season.”
As the season marches on, Majka said, “Coming into October, we are basically where we were hoping to be. We set out to win the league, win the HWS, and win a sectional title. While we are not necessarily leading in each of those areas, we are within striking distance. We are toward the top of our league standings, have a nice seed for the HWS (Hunterdon/ Warren/Sussex Tournament), and are climbing in North 1 Group 1 power points.”
“This season is one we can not waste away,” Wrigley said. “More than anything I want to inspire and motivate the younger girls to be leaders and to take charge. They are a very talented group with a lot of potential and I can see them beginning to understand the game at a very high level. Every game we need each player to be themselves and go out hungry for another three points. We have our eyes on an HWS Championship and are working hard to be able to make a big run in states.”
“My hope is that we do it all,” Redden said. “This team has so much potential, and if we go out on the field and play our hardest every single game, we will not lose. I hope that we win the HWS tournament, the league title, and states. We can do it all if we give it our all every single time we step onto the field. This team has a bond that is unbreakable and we play for each other because we are a family.”
When it comes to coaching style, Majka leads by example by participating in some of the practices and always running the much anticipated track time trial the second day of official practices.
“I have always believed that leadership is more effective when you get to the front and say follow me, rather than sitting in the back and yelling charge,” he said. “I purposely run the timed 1.5 mile at the beginning of the season to help motivate the girls. Throughout the summer, we all would do it, time ourselves, and post our times. When the time comes, having me do it with them eliminates any of the complaints that maybe I am pushing them too hard. I figure if a 40 year old guy who doesn't have to play can post a good time, it puts pressure on them to do the same.”
He also works himself into many of the drills and into the team's Saturday indoor scrimmages to help create the type of play he is looking for.
“Being on the field actually playing provides me with a different vantage point to see what is happening, and to see the strengths and weaknesses of each player,” he said. “It simply provides a different perspective compared to standing on the sideline.”
The players, Majka and JV coach Jeanette Spooner are passionate about the sport and the team, and at Kittatinny, the girls' soccer culture celebrates what is best about the game.