Sept. 17, 2018 is a date Triton girls soccer prefers to forget.
On that date, the Mustangs took a trip south to Franklin Township to face off against eventual South Jersey Group 2 champion Delsea. The result was an ugly 8-1 loss for the Mustangs, their third defeat in what would turn into a disappointing 6-10 season.
Nearly 13 months later, on Oct. 8, a rejuvenated Triton team hosted an undefeated Delsea squad. The Mustangs’ tough defense led by seniors Emily Martin and Nikki Tricocci held the Crusaders off the scoreboard for 80 minutes of regulation and through one overtime period. Delsea won the game in double overtime on a goal from Ava Szwed, but a statement had been made. In just one season, Triton had improved immensely.
“I took it as a win,” head coach Danielle Spinuzza said about the Delsea game. “This year, the first game we lost 2-0 and here we took them to double overtime. And that’s a good team with multiple Division I players.”
“Even though we lost to Delsea, the way that we played, going into double overtime with an undefeated team brought us up a little bit,” Martin added.
Triton is hoping to keep their confidence high as they aim to do something it hasn’t done this decade: win a playoff game. Triton’s last postseason win came in 2009 and the senior class is determined to end the decade-long drought this year. The Mustangs are the No. 6 seed in the South Jersey Group 3 tournament and will face No. 11 Lacey at home in the opening round.
“For a lot of us, it’s about knowing ourselves,” senior Lindsey Burleigh said about the team’s focus entering the playoffs. “Even if we don’t have that overall conference bragging rights, it’s about our personal goals and what we hope to achieve. I feel like everyone is so hyped up for a playoff win that it’s going to take us far.”
A few key factors has made Triton a tough team to beat in 2019. The team’s defense has been stout all season, allowing one goal or less in 11 of its first 13 games. A few freshmen have also contributed to the team’s success, including striker Brittany Boyle, who has scored six goals this year.
“It’s been pretty crucial,” Martin said of the contributions from the freshmen this season. “(Boyle) really stood out this year, she’s our striker. She works (hard) up top to defend and help with everything.”
Spinuzza believes a lot of the credit for this year’s success goes to the senior leaders, especially captains Martin, Burleigh and Alyssa Gargiulo.
“I was surprised,” Spinuzza said of the team’s success, “but I was surprised because of the consistency, not because of their talent. I always knew that we had the potential to do really well, but we also have never had a group like our seniors with the leadership that we do now.”
The Mustangs came sprinting out of the gate, winning seven of their first 10 games. In early October, however, Triton’s momentum slowed with three straight losses to GCIT, Delsea and Clearview. The losing streak cost the Mustangs a shot to qualify for the South Jersey Soccer Coaches Association tournament. Triton finished in 18th in the final SJSCA poll, two spots outside of a tournament berth.
“Senior year, I really wanted to be in it,” Martin said. “I thought we were going to be in it and then we dropped a little bit.”
Triton isn’t lingering on the missed opportunity or the recent losing streak, however. The Mustangs realize there’s a bigger prize on the horizon and Spinuzza believes her team has the potential to make some noise in the postseason.
“We didn’t try to harp on the past,” Spinuzza said. “We know we were close (to qualifying for the coaches’ tournament) and they’ve never been that close. They dropped with that last losing streak. But it’s the same thing with the conference. When Delsea beat us in OT, you’ve got to move on. There’s nothing we can do about it now. We’re focused on playoffs and hopefully we can make a run.”