We're off an running in the seventh annual Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament as six preliminary round games were contested on Saturday.
Due to a new format, the top four seeds all received byes into next weekend's quarterfinals. On tap for this Saturday are four first-round games, including No. 11 Phillipsburg at No. 6 Kittatinny in a rematch of last year's quarterfinal, won by the Cougars, 4-0.
First off, we addressed this last week, but to seed the 18 teams solely on power points doesn't work. For one, the points do not factor in strength of schedule. Thus, we have Voorhees as the No. 2 seed and Warren Hills as the No. 3, when even the casual fan knows those are the top two teams in the area. No slight to No. 1 Newton and No. 4 Hackettstown, which are both undefeated, but those teams have not faced the same kind of top competition.
Also, why is the bracket divided so that some teams are still off this Saturday? That could easily have been avoided by using a 20-man bracket. There's no reason every team still alive should not be playing in the second round.
Perhaps it's time to implement a seeding committee for next year -- taking into account power points, head-to-head, etc., but not letting the points through six games (some didn't even have that many games, ie Hunterdon Central which was 4-0 and drew the No. 8 seed).
One look at the history of this event shows where the power lies. Coming into the tournament, Hunterdon-Warren schools were 64-54 overall in tournament play, while Sussex was 37-47. Only High Point (2011, '12) and Newton (2009) have ever reached the finals and no team has won a title that was decided on the field. The Braves shared the championship with Warren Hills in '09 because the final game was never played due to state tournament conflicts for both schools.
Now onto this week's rankings:
1. Voorhees (7-2) -- Vikings are coming off a big week, dropping a 2-1 overtime heartbreaker to state-ranked Madison on Thursday before rebounding with a 2-0 win over Group 1 power Shore Regional on Saturday. Senior forward Kathryn Roncoroni continues her assault on the school record books with an 8-goal week, including three in Monday's 3-1 win over Skyland Conference Valley Division rival Bernards. Roncoroni leads all scorers in the HWS area with 19 goals.
Up next: North Plainfield at home on Tuesday; Franklin at home on Thursday.
2. Warren Hills (6-1) -- Blue Streaks went 2-0 last week, scoring a 6-1 win over No. 5 Phillipsburg on Monday before a 7-1 thumping of Hillsborough under the lights on Thursday. The week was cut short due to the tragic death of quarterback Evan Murray on Friday, as the school cancelled all events on Saturday, including a scheduled game at home against Eastern, the top team in New Jersey. Junior forward Dani Profita scored three goals last week, including two against the Stateliners, raising her season total to 12 and giving her 51 overall as she became just the sixth player in program history to reach the 50-goal mark -- joining Sydney Muntone (77 from 2011-14), Lindsey Schott (72 from 2008-11), Nikki Profita (64 from 2011-14), Niki Miller (61 from 2009-12) and Megan Springmeyer (54 from 2004-07).
Up next: at Bridgewater-Raritan on Tuesday; North Hunterdon at home on Thursday.
3. Hunterdon Central (6-0) -- Red Devils still rolling with three more wins last week -- including back-to-back shutouts of Montgomery (3-0 on Thursday) and North Hunterdon (6-0 on Saturday). Senior forward Maddie Freeman scored a pair of goals with one assist last week, while junior midfielder Nikki Freeman added three goals and one assist, including two goals in the win over North, which raised Central to 7-6 all-time in tri-county games and gave coach Jenn Sponzo her 230th career win. Senior goalie Molly Lafferty combined for six saves in the three wins.
Up next: Phillipsburg at home on Tuesday; Bridgewater-Raritan at home on Thursday; Wallkill Valley at home in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex first round.
4. Hackettstown (7-0) -- Tigers have yet to allow a goal this season as they rattled off three more victories last week, including NJAC Freedom Division victories over Lenape Valley (5-0 on Monday) and High Point (5-0 this Monday). Sandwiched in between was a 7-0 pasting of North Warren on Thursday. Junior forward Molly Gorczyca has been on fire this season, scoring eight goals in the three wins, including back-to-back hat tricks against North and High Point. She leads the team with 19 goals entering Tuesday's action. Senior goalie Rose Bishop made a total of eight saves in those wins. First test coming on Thursday against Mendham, which went to the North 2, Group 3 final in 2014.
Up next: at Mendham on Thursday.
5. Newton (7-0) -- Braves also didn't allow a goal through seven games, squeaking out a 1-0 win over No. 10 Wallkill Valley on Monday. Junior forward Kate Barbato scored the decisive goal off an assist from junior forward Nicole Rizzo. Barbato also struck for a pair of goals in a 2-0 win over Lenape Valley on Thursday. Coach Lisa Bechtel's team earned the top seed for the HWS tourney and will be looking to reach the final for the first time since 2009. Braves will not play a county game until next weekend's quarterfinals.
Up next: at Morristown-Beard on Wednesday night; at North Warren on Saturday.
6. Phillipsburg (4-3) -- Stateliners are making a push to crack the Top 5 following a 3-1 win over High Point on Saturday in a Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex preliminary matchup. That win was coming off losses to Skyland Conference powers Warren Hills (6-1 on Monday) and Bridgewater-Raritan (2-0 on Thursday). Senior forward Kylie Marhold, sophomore forward Abby Evans and senior midfielder/back Lacey O'Dowd scored goals against High Point, while junior goalie Samantha DeRogatis made eight saves.
Up next: at Hunterdon Central on Tuesday; at Kittatinny on Saturday in Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex first round.
7. Belvidere (5-2-1) -- County Seaters went 2-0-1 last week, capping the slate with a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Bernards, which shared the Skyland Conference Valley Division title last season. Senior forward Katie Spadaccini connected for the goal in that one, assisted by junior back Rachel Dultz. Earlier in the week, coach Beth Franceschino's team scored wins over Mount St. Mary (1-0 on Monday) and North Plainfield (3-1 on Tuesday) in a pair of Mountain Division matchups. Senior forward/midfielder Hannah Koch scored two goals vs North Plainfield, while freshman Maddie Call had a goal against Mount St. Mary.
Up next: at Delaware Valley on Tuesday; South Hunterdon at home on Thursday; South Hunterdon at home on Saturday in Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex first round.
8. South Hunterdon (4-4) -- Eagles got to .500 with three wins last week, including a 2-1 win over Delaware Valley in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex prelims. Junior forward Carly Leary notched a goal and an assist, while sophomore forward Julia Kreider had a goal in the win. Kreider also struck for a pair of goals in Thursday's 5-0 win over Franklin, while Leary had a goal and an assist in that one as well.
Up next: at Bernards on Tuesday; at Belvidere on Thursday; at Belvidere on Saturday in Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex first round.
9. Sparta (5-2-1) -- Spartans holding steady in the nine-hole after a 2-1 week, including a 6-1 loss to Mendham last Tuesday before rebounding with wins over Vernon (5-0 on Friday) and Pope John (3-0 on Saturday in HWS prelims). Senior forward Rhett Curran scored a pair of goals in the win over Vernon, the Spartans' first in NJAC American Division play this year. Junior forward Jackie Hallack (5 goals, 5 assists) had at least one point in the first eight games of the season.
Up next: Pope John at home on Tuesday; Lenape Valley at home on Saturday in Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex first round.
10. Wallkill Valley (6-4-1) -- Rangers went 3-0 last week before a tough 1-0 loss to No. 5 Newton on Monday ended the streak. Sophomore forward Morgan Carr led the way offensively in the wins, scoring four goals in Saturday's 6-1 win over Vernon in a Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex matchup. Senior midfielder Leah Struble had three goals and two assists in the week, including two goals in a 4-0 win over North Warren in an NJAC Colonial Division clash.
Up next: Hackensack at home on Wednesday; at Hunterdon Central on Saturday in Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex first round.
On the bubble: Kittatinny (5-2).