UNION - Mainland Regional High School boys soccer coach Chris Meade said the 12 seniors on his team helped put Mainland soccer on the map over the last four years. Their final road together turned out to be a frustrating dead-end, but it can't erase what they accomplished as a team.
Mainland lost to West Morris Mendham 2-1 in the Group III state championship Sunday afternoon at Kean University. Calvin Ryan scored both goals for Mendham, one in each half, and goalie Ryan Carkhuff held off a desperate Mainland rally in the last 10 minutes of the game as the Minutemen won their second state championship in three years.
Mainland (19-3-3) reached the state final for the first time in program history after winning its second straight South Jersey title.
"We didn't like the way it ended, but nobody else has done what we've done," said senior Jimmy Kryjer. "We've got to keep our heads high because we had a helluva season. It's a great group of guys. We've played together since seven years old on Mainland United (Club). We've always been good friends. We're a family, we're more than a team. It's definitely hard right now, but we'll look back on this 10 years from now and be happy for what we did."
"That senior class is unbelievable," Meade said. "You've got 12 guys that dedicate their lives to soccer. Either way I'm proud of them. Obviously we wanted a 'W' today, but I'm so proud of these guys, and blessed just to be a part of it."
Trailing 2-0 after Ryan's second goal off a Mainland turnover five minutes into the second half, the Mustangs pressured the Mendham defense relentlessly until Dan Adams finally scored on a header off the rebound of a direct kick by Keegan Ford with 11:54 left in regulation.
The Mustangs had several more chances after that, but Mendham goalie Carkhuff stopped Jack Sarkos and Conner Juckett from close-range to preserve the victory.
Meade said the Mustangs had trouble staying on their defensive assignments in the first half but pretty much controlled the flow of the game in the second half.
"Once we cleaned it up a bit, we were true to our game," he said. "We sent some long balls in where we could be dangerous, but we also possessed the ball well and worked it up the field with our combinations. We just ran out of time."
Mendham (20-3) got to the final by beating Hopewell Valley 2-1 in the North II sectional final, and Old Tappan 1-0 in the other state semifinal.
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"They're not happy just getting (to a state final), and that's the competitors that these guys are," Meade said. "It's nice to be here, but it's sweeter to win. They'll get a better perspective on it once they settle down a little bit and really appreciate what they've done. I think there's something to be said about guys sticking together, from eight years old. That's very rare in high school sports."
"I'm grateful for every moment I got to play with these guys," Sarkos, a junior, said of his senior teammates. "I couldn't be more proud of our effort today. We gave it everything we could."