| Cherry Hill Courier-Post
Guarente and the rest of the Cheetahs will get the opportunity to play for a title on Sunday after a thrilling 2-1 win over Cherry Hill West Friday afternoon at James Atkinson Park.
Top-seeded GCIT (13-1), winners of nine straight, will face Burlington Township, a 5-0 winner over Deptford in its semifinal, in Sunday’s South West Region C championship. Game time is 1 p.m.
“It’s super exciting, to be a part of something that’s never been done here before,” said Guarente, who delivered the decisive goal in the closing minutes of regulation. “It would be amazing if we can finish it off. We’ve been working for four years for this chance. We’ve been playing every game up to this point like it’s our last game.”
The Cheetah train will fire up its engine one more time, knowing the final destination will come Sunday when it plays for the gold regional cup.
“Winning a title would be mean so much to me and this team, it’s been the goal right from the start of the season,” said senior Adrianna Pepe, who has been a big reason the Cheetahs are 19-2 in their last 21 games dating back to last season. “We have 13 seniors, such great talent on this team. We knew coming into the season, that not every day was a given, but to get all the way to this point is just amazing and I can’t wait for the chance to play on Sunday.
“I love this team. It’s like my family, my sisters.”
Family is a popular term when it comes to this group. GCIT head coach Bryan Vahey used numerous times when talking about his players.
“The progress of this program, it’s been unbelievable,” he said. “We’ve talked about building this thing as a family. And that’s truly what it is. I’m so proud to be a part of this and I can’t believe I get paid for this.”
Guarente, one of the top female athletes in the history of the technical school in Deptford, holds the program records for single-season goals (33) and career goals (76).
However, none was bigger than the one she potted against Cherry Hill West.
With time winding down in regulation, Guarente ripped a shot from outside the box, burying the ball into the right corner for the go-ahead goal, her 17th of the season.
Guarente appeared to give a sigh of relief when the ball hit the back of the net after she was denied on several shots leading up to the goal.
“I’d been shooting and shooting all game, but I knew one was going to fall,” the University of New Hampshire-bound Guarente said. “I wasn’t going to give up. My teammates were helping me out, we were moving the ball around really well.
“It’s important to say persistent and keeping working because eventually it’s going to fall.”
GCIT was in position for the win thanks to a strong defensive effort, led by sophomore goalie Morgan Riley, who made three incredible saves. Center backs Pepe and Ava Knight along with outside backs Jenna Peel, Amanda Smith and Ariel Sharpe kept West from getting more scoring opportunities.
“Morgan plays her heart out in every game and she was amazing today,” Guarente said. “She kept us in the game.”
Vahey added, “She played the game of her life.”
GCIT took a 1-0 lead into halftime after Micaiah Croce buried a penalty kick for her eighth goal of the season.
“We’ve got so much depth on this roster,” Vahey said. “That’s what makes this so much fun. It’s not just one scorer, we have a lot of players who can come through.”
Cherry Hill West (7-6-1) had experienced three excruciating losses in the tournament over the previous three seasons and, with 14 seniors on the roster, this one stings just as much.
After a sluggish first half, the Lions picked the tempo in the second half and tied the game when Kayla Thompson headed in a goal.
Tom McGurk is a regional sports reporter for the Courier-Post and The Daily Journal, covering South Jersey sports for over 30 years. If you have a sports story that needs to be told, contact him at (856) 486-2420 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @McGurkSports. Help support local journalism with a Courier-Post subscription.