The South Jersey trophy is held by RBC girls soccer team captains, from left, Morgan Cupo, Cleo Gringard and Abby Najdzinowicz. Courtesy photo
The South Jersey trophy is held by RBC girls soccer team captains, from left, Morgan Cupo, Cleo Gringard and Abby Najdzinowicz. Courtesy photo
In discussing the 2021 season, Red Bank Catholic girls’ soccer coach Frank Lawrence looked at it from every angle.

In the end, he came up with the logical summation.

“When you look at the season, I can’t be anything but pleased with it,” Lawrence said. “We did overcome a lot.”

In doing so, RBC’s Caseys went 14-5-1; won the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A championship before falling to Washington Township’s Immaculate Heart Academy, 2-0, in the state final; and reached the Shore Conference semifinals.

The journey began with RBC knowing it would be without two of its starting midfielders for the entire season, as senior Abby Nadjzinowicz and junior Anna Frankovic both suffered torn ACLs in the off-season. Several other injuries occurred throughout the year, forcing players to play with pain and sometimes not at 100 percent.

Additionally, there were only two seniors on a young squad that played one of the state’s toughest schedules. RBC knocked heads with 10 teams ranked in the Top 10, giving Group II Holmdel its only loss of the year and tying with a Freehold team that was unbeaten until the state final.

“The teams we lost to are all top teams in the state,” Lawrence said. “We purposefully play a tough schedule. It’s one of the reasons kids want to come to Red Bank Catholic. They know they’ll be playing in big, important games against good competition. We’re not interested in playing a cupcake schedule and getting easy wins.”

It’s what has made RBC one of the state’s top teams throughout the years. Despite their injuries this year the Caseys had enough depth to thrive.

It started up front with senior Morgan Cupo, whose twin brother Dylan was Lincroft’s Christian Brothers Academy’s top scorer. Cupo tallied 16 goals and nine assists to lead the team in points with 41. She finished her career with 69 goals, the fifth best total in program history and the second highest in the 21st century.

“With Red Bank Catholic’s history, that’s pretty amazing with all the talent over the years,” Lawrence said. “It’s kind of like being with the Yankees and being up there next to Ruth and Gehrig.

“Every team would double-team Morgan, especially down the stretch,” the coach continued. “She was very unselfish throughout both tournaments. She played exceptionally well and did a lot of little things to win games that might go unnoticed. It wasn’t necessarily getting goals or assists, but winning balls, coming back deep to help defend. Her leadership and hard work really helped us in the postseason and got us where we needed to be.”

Lawrence added that Cupo “willed us to victory” in the SJ Non-Public A title game against St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel. The senior had help up front with sophomore Mya King (16 goals, six assists) and junior Gianna Romeo (12 goals, nine assists).

“Mya had a really great sophomore year,” Lawrence said. “She played about 20 minutes a game last year; this year she played the vast majority of every game and scored some really big goals for us. Gianna kind of plays a hybrid position, a little deeper into the midfield. She really is a midfielder, that’s kind of her strength; and we needed that connection between the midfield and the other two.”  

The actual midfielders were junior Noel Pauwels, along with sophomores Emily Beyer, Mia Gonzalez and Ashley Inacio. The sophs rotated into the two spots where Nadjzinowicz and Frankovic would have played.  

“The midfield has always been the engine for our team,” Lawrence said. “Noel is just a dynamic player. She didn’t miss any games but played through a lot of minor injuries. She distributes the ball very well, gets the ball from the back to our forwards, scores a couple goals for us. And because we’re very young her experience helped as well.”

As for the three 10th-graders, the coach said, “At the very beginning they would make more mistakes than [we’d] like. Sometimes you gotta work past that and if we gave them a little more time … they stepped up and did a really good job for us.”

The defense was led by the team’s other senior, as Cleo Grignard was solid in goal.

“It’s always nice to have someone back there with a lot of experience,” Lawrence said. “Cleo has always done a good job in her three years. She’s not really a tall kid, but she really could make some amazing saves when we needed her to.”

Defending in front of Grignard’s were sophomores Molly Sheehan, Jyvanna Harris, Sophia Racioppi and Ava Sorrentino. Sheehan was a forward dropped to defense and worked with former Caseys’ great Emily Holtz, who helped as an assistant coach.

“[I advised] ‘Go and stand with Emily every day and learn the position because she was really good at it,’” Lawrence said. “To Molly’s credit she listened and learned her stuff. Defensively we were solid … We never had games where we gave up a lot of goals despite playing against some amazing teams.”

The Caseys allowed just 19 goals, never yielded more than two in a game, and had six shutouts. At the other end of the field, they scored 57 goals.

Add it all up, and it comes out to another strong season for RBC.

“It would be easy to say we overachieved,” Lawrence said. “On the other hand, we always had a pretty deep squad. … We have talented kids; if we can get them to come together, then we will perform well.”