St. Rose’s Emily Lankau and Morristown-Beard’s Dani Gates fight for the ball during the NJSIAA Non-Public B championship game at Kean University, Union. John Blaine photos

St. Rose’s Emily Lankau and Morristown-Beard’s Dani Gates fight for the ball during the NJSIAA Non-Public B championship game at Kean University, Union. John Blaine photos

By Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor  

For the St. Rose of Belmar High School girls’ soccer team, it was all about the big picture.  

Yes, the Purple Roses fell one game short of their first state title in eight years, but they will look back with pride on the program’s best season in five years.  

After dropping a 2-0 decision to Morristown-Beard in the Nov. 11 NJSIAA Non-Public B championship game at Kean University in Union, St. Rose finished with a 15-3-1 record. It was the Roses best mark since going 15-4-2 in 2013, which is the last year they reached the state final.  

Photo Gallery: NJSIAA NP B - St. Rose vs Morristown-Beard

“I told the girls when we think about this season, we’re going to remember our first [Shore Conference B Central] Division title in five years, we’re going to remember the [South Jersey Non-Public B] state sectional championship,” first-year coach Zack Savacool said. “We’re not going to talk about this game, this is not what we’re going to think about, it’s not what this team is going to be remembered for. All in all, a successful season.” 

Emily Lankau, just one of three seniors on the roster, actually felt the Roses should be remembered for the championship game. Not the outcome, but the way they played.  

“Some of our low points were [losing to] Wall, [a tie with] Manasquan, losing the first round of the conference tournament,” Lankau said. “But this here, today, was definitely a highlight. I believe we played really well together.” 

“We dominated the first half completely; I think we really showed we wanted this win,” she continued. “I had a lot of chances, but for some reason I really couldn’t put them away today. But that’s OK; I think we showed that we really did want it.” 

In the first half, St. Rose out-shot Morristown-Beard, 11-3, but the shots either went wide or were saved. M-B’s physical play began to frustrate the Roses in the second half, and with 19:57 remaining, Mo-Beard scored two goals within 1:57 to secure the first girls soccer title in school history.  

“The first half was some of the best soccer we played all year,” Savacool said. “I kept yelling every five
minutes, ‘We need a goal, we need a reward for all the hard work you did.’ It’s high school soccer, anyone can score no matter what team you’re on. Unfortunately, we couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net. We were pressing them the whole game and they get two quick counters within two minutes and the game’s over.” 

But the success may be just beginning. Although junior Julianne Leskauskas was marked tightly by Jenna Kurz and could never get any truly dangerous scoring opportunities, she returns next year after leading the team with 29 goals and eight assists. Sophomore Caroline Caputo (11 goals, 15 assists) and junior Gabrielle Hueth will also be back. 

“I believe there is a very bright future for this program,” Lankau said, wearing her brother’s state championship CBA jacket from several years ago. “We still have a lot of talented juniors and sophomores and freshmen that are truly gonna make this team something special and maybe even win the championship the next couple years.” 

Despite the youth, Savacool saw potential in the team from the very start.  

“After one of our first practices, I told them they have a state championship in them,” he said. “It’s nice to see that and then realize that we got here. I told them we’ll be back; I think they can [win a title] as well. They’re going to start missing it really, really soon and then starting counting down the days again.” 

Those days are over for Lankau, who is unsure where she is going next year but knows she will not play soccer. She will, however, have memories for a lifetime. The Purple Roses were a pedestrian 27-25-1 during her first three seasons, but broke out in her final year.  

“We started from the bottom. We worked our way up, we truly gave this whole season our all, and I’m very proud we got to be here,” she said. “I’m going to remember this senior year as winning the sectionals. That truly meant a lot to us; that was just an amazing moment. This was a very bittersweet ending, but I’m just happy I got to spend the season with the girls.”