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West Essex girls lacrosse was a youthful and close-knit team as Knights put together outstanding 19-2 season that included capturing the Essex County Tournament title plus a berth in the North, Group 2 state final. Among the key performers for Wessex laxladies were juniors Gianna Puorro (4) and Molly Simon (7) and sophomore Gianna Macrino (2) as interim head coach Gianna D'Durso did terrific job putting the pieces in place for a fine spring. (Photos by Gene Nann-

West Essex Girls Lacrosse
Should Be Elite Team In 2022

By Steve Tober

NORTH CALDWELL- After a return to the top of Essex County girls lacrosse this spring along with asserting its rightful place among the state’s best Group 2 programs, West Essex can have very positive thoughts about 2022 with most of the team set to return next spring.

Interim head coach Gianna D’Urso and her staff of fellow West Essex alums did a superb job in directing the Knights to an outstanding 19-2 record and a berth in the June 10th North, Group 2 final opposite state titan Summit.

And, while dreams of a state sectional title were dashed on June 3, as the state’s No. 2 ranked team at the time defeated West Essex, 14-7, the knowledge that the best could still be coming down the road for the talent-stocked program leaves D’Urso ecstatic about not only what was accomplished this season, but also very enthused about the bright prospects for even more success that the near future could hold.

“We are beyond proud of this group of talented girls,” said the Knights’ 2021 head mentor. “They continued to show up and get better each and every day.  As a coaching staff that is full of West Essex lacrosse alums, we were so proud of them and all that they accomplished.

“Although the North, Group 2 final was not the outcome we would have liked, we knew Summit was a tremendous team, and we were so proud of our girls and the fight that they had all game.

“It is outstanding to look at our team and realize that we are returning almost the entire team.  We will surely miss our two senior captains, (defenders) Rebecca (Desiderio) and Gab (Maisto), who were stellar on defense for us this season, but know that they have taught the underclassmen a lot and have prepared them to take on their next role.

“Our girls are a really special, talented group, so to know that we have them all returning is unbelievable.  We know they have a lot of room to grow and learn, but are eager to see what they do next year.”

West Essex, which came into late season action ranked No. 16 in the state, had a dramatic 14-13 overtime triumph vs. Ramapo in a memorable North, Group 2 semifinal that was played over the course of two days before the Knights fell at Summit (18-2) in the North, Group 2 final.

“The OT win vs Ramapo was unbelievable,” stated D’Urso. “The entire situation and the game were odd with returning the next day to finish the 27 minutes that needed to be played.  They were so phenomenal and worked really hard.  It was not the prettiest win, but it showed their grit and determination, even with .4 seconds left.

“Gianna Puorro scored the tying goal with .4 seconds, on the worst possible hash mark you could get as a lacrosse player, but she is phenomenal and was able to get it done.  In OT, Gianna Macrino scored the game winning goal on an 8-meter.“

The Knights rebounded very nicely this spring after finishing 6-13 in 2019 and having 2020 wiped away due to the COVID virus. The 2021 team was young with all but tri-captains Desiderio and Maisto being underclassmen, and the explosiveness of the team over the long haul was undeniable behind a plethora of top scorers.

“We have a hard-working group of girls who love this sport and continue to put in the time to get better each day,” said D’Urso, who stepped into the lead role of guiding the team when Bettina Pletschow went on maternity leave for this season. “We accomplished a lot this season and will keep building toward more success in the future.”

The Knights captured the Essex County Tournament title for the first time since 2014 with a 10-5 victory over Non-Public B state finalist Montclair Kimberley Academy and posted state tournament victories over Indian Hills (18-1), Lakeland (23-10) before the hard-fought 14-13 triumph vs. persistent, third-seeded Ramapo.

It was a memorable contest indeed vs. the pesky Green Raiders played over two days (June 8 and 9) due to the arrival of lightning and thunder on what turned out to be Day 1 of the contest as the Knights led, 8-5, with 2:05 remaining in the first half.

When play resumed the next day at noon Ramapo (10-9) was determined to make it a close finish and it battled back to tie the contest twice in the second half (9-9 with 17:26 remaining and 11-11 with 7:02 still showing) before eventually taking a 13-12 lead with 40 seconds remaining in regulation.

West Essex forced overtime when Puorro scored with just two seconds left and the Knights won the contest, 14-13, on Macrino’s goal which came with 1:34 still showing in the sudden-death, extra session.

Puorro finished with 7 goals and 3 assists in the memorable contest, while sophomore Gianna Macrino scored 3 goals and junior Cait Lutz added two.
Puorro and Macrino also won 8 draw controls apiece and sophomore goalie Jordan Cohen had 9 saves.

In the North, Group 2 final at Summit on June 10 the Knights simply ran into an elite opponent and the Hilltoppers of veteran coach Mike Walsh showed their strength and talent throughout the contest.

Summit, which went on to lose to Rumson-Fair Haven, 14-13, in the Group 2 final, last won a group title in 2017 when it won Group 3 and the Hilltoppers last captured a Tournament of Champions crown in 2016 when they defeated Ridgewood, 11-10, in the final.

It’s a program that won five straight group state titles in either Group 2 or 3 from 2013 to 2017 and lost to Moorestown in the 2018 Group 3 final.

West Essex would love to move into that very elite level of girls lacrosse supremacy once again, and perhaps there are group state titles in the future for the proud program that appears to be very much back in the hunt in Group 2.

In addition to Puorro (51 goals, 19 assists, 71 ground balls, 58 draw controls), Macrino (59 goals, 14 assists, 72 ground balls, 127 draw controls) and Lutz (44 goals, 9 assists) at midfield and attack and Cohen (139 saves, 88 goals against) in goal, the Knights will return other standouts such as junior tri-captain Molly Simon (midfield, 42 goals, 29 assists, 70 ground balls, 81 draw controls in 2021), sophomore attackers Cielle McInerney (53 goals, 14 assists), Alivia Sabato (23 goals, 6 assists) and Haliegh Farese (19 goals, 7 assists).        

Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister

West Essex coach Gianna D'Urso saw her West Essex Knights come up with several superlative performances including in North, Group 2 state semifinal vs. Ramapo when Gianna Puorro (4) scored game-tyiug goal in the closing secnds of regulation and other youngsters such as sophomore Cielle McInerney (9) helped keep the Wessex offense moving forward. In a superb 2021 campaign the Knights won Essex County Tournament championship along with putting together an outstanding 19-2 record.

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