The Vikings defense Shawnee High School in penalty kicks to win the South Jersey Group IV championship.
Senior captain Marissa Feltoon wasn’t a player who regularly found herself on the scoresheet for Eastern Regional High School girls soccer in 2018.
However, on Friday, she was the player in the spotlight in the South Jersey Group IV championship game.
The Vikings had battled Shawnee High School to a 2–2 tie in regulation and a 3–3 tie in penalty kicks. Feltoon, a player head coach Jamie McGroarty described as one of the team’s strongest in penalty kicks, was called upon to make the biggest shot of her career.
“I’ve always been confident with my shot, it’s always been one of my strongest suits,” Feltoon said. “I was confident going up there and taking the second one.”
In one moment, Feltoon swung her right leg back to launch the ball. In the next moment, it was in the back of the net. After scoring just one goal the entire 2018 regular season, Feltoon made the shot of her life to win Eastern the South Jersey Group IV title, the program’s first sectional championship in 12 years.
“It’s my senior year and I knew that was the moment where I could make a difference with the team,” an emotional Feltoon said after the game.
McGroarty said while Feltoon didn’t play as many minutes as she wanted during the season, she was an extremely important piece on the 2018 team.
“She’s been a good leader all year,” McGroarty said. “She hasn’t seen the amount of minutes she’d like, but that’s what high school is all about, when your number is called, you have to do your job.”
Feltoon’s kick erased years of heartbreak and disappointment in the sectional playoffs. In the previous five seasons, Eastern never lost more than four games and even finished the 2017 season undefeated. Despite this, the Vikings were unable to win a sectional title in any of those seasons.
This year, players believe they had an extra ounce of determination and heart. That could be seen in the sectional final, as Eastern trailed Shawnee, 2–1, with less than 10 minutes to go after Shawnee got a late goal from Kailyn Johnston.
“We could have quit,” McGroarty said. “When they scored that goal late in the game, we could have quit. But we didn’t.”
With 3:35 remaining in regulation, junior Kelli McGroarty corralled a loose ball and bounced a shot into the net to tie the game at two and send it to overtime.
“We’ve been taught, we preach, when you’re losing, you have to keep fighting,” Kelli said. “If there’s 10 minutes left, 40 minutes left, three seconds left, anything can happen. I don’t think we were nervous. We just kept going at them.”
“We didn’t panic,” Jamie said. “We still played the right way and we made a couple changes to get us more offense. But we didn’t panic.”
Feltoon believes it wasn’t skill, but heart that allowed Eastern to win the title, saying the 2018 team emulated the 2006 team that won both the South Jersey Group IV championship and the NJSIAA Group IV state championship.
“They had chemistry and they had heart and that’s the reason we won today,” she said.
There was something else giving Eastern extra motivation. All season long, Eastern has honored the legacy of their former teammate, Kara Lemanowicz, who passed away from sudden cardiac arrest just before the start of her freshman year in 2015. Feltoon and many of her teammates wore purple headbands throughout the season in honor of Lemanowicz’s favorite color. Feltoon had her purple headband on when she made the game-winning kick and said winning the title in honor of Lemanowicz was one of the greatest things the team could have done.
“Every game, we play for ourselves, we play for each other, we play for the seniors, but we all play for her,” Feltoon said. “She couldn’t be here. We all give double the effort for her because she wasn’t able to be here with us to celebrate moments like this.”
“Every thing we do, she’s in our heads,” Feltoon added.
Eastern is scheduled to play in the NJSIAA Group IV state semifinals on Tuesday, Nov. 13. Visit www.theberlinsun.com for updates on the Vikings’ playoff run.