Things were crumbling all around her.
Hunterdon Central senior Morgan Adams put it all together this season. The star athlete took a massive step forward to emerge as the Red Devils’ top defender, and in this moment her team needed her more than ever.
A three-goal halftime lead against Voorhees in the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex County Tournament final was dwindling, as the Vikings dominated the draw in the second half, and their explosive offense seized momentum, scoring goal after goal to make it a one-score game.
Voorhees never closed the gap.
Marisa Bragg came up with the game-sealing play, with the goalie intercepting a Voorhees pass to end the final threat, but Adams was instrumental in keeping Hunterdon Central ahead heading into that possession.
Voorhees outshot Hunterdon Central 30-to-15 in the game, but only 20 of those shots managed to hit their target. Instead, despite dominating possession, Voorhees struggled to find space to get a clear shot on goal.
That effort was nothing new for Adams, who finished the year with a team-leading 19 forced turnovers and also won the H/W/S Tournament’s MVP award. It was rare recognition for a defender in a sport dominated by offense and the two-way stars in the midfield, exemplifying how truly special Adams was on the back line.
“She had a lot of big-time plays,” Hunterdon Central coach Jillian Plushanski said. “It wasn’t just the checks and interceptions, it was her play in one-on-one situations. She stopped a lot of their better players, and she really held down our defensive unit.”
The senior star stood out as the last line of defense, sealing the crease off on a regular basis thanks to her unparalleled athleticism, her impressive stick work and her attention to detail. She seemed to always come up with the interception or check in the biggest moments, and also regularly shut down the opposition’s best offensive player throughout the game.
Adams didn’t enter the season with expectations of starring for Hunterdon Central. The defense was always going to be a strength for the Red Devils, which housed most of its experienced players on that back line, but Adams was one of many players Hunterdon Central was expecting to rely on.
It didn’t take long for Adams to grab the attention of the coaching staff, though.
Adams has been one of the best athletes on the field since her freshman season, but she needed to marry that athleticism with the mental part of the game. It seems like even she knew that.
Adams proved herself to be one of Hunterdon Central’s best students this season, delving deep into game tapes to learn the tendencies of opposing players and strategies of upcoming opponents.
“She was always a strong defender, but I was not expecting her to have as many highlight plays — the checks, the interceptions, the turnovers — that she did,” Plushanski said. “I think her work has definitely paid off. She was just a much more confident player than anything we’ve seen from her the past couple seasons.”
The big breakthrough came in one of the first practices of the season, when the coaching staff finally broke through Adams’ stoic exterior to extract the player who would go on to epitomize the leadership and communication skills of Hunterdon Central’s lockdown defense. Even more than her preparation, that breakthrough helped Adams build confidence on the field and the composure to avoid the type of yellow cards that plagued her early career.
“All of a sudden she was laughing during practice and her personality came out,” Plushanski said. “From there on we saw her personality and confidence come out on the field. I think that’s what helped her stay calm and composed on the field, rather than some of the frustration she might’ve had in her younger seasons.”
Hunterdon Central isn’t generally known as a stalwart defense, but the Red Devils showcased that defensive intensity from the season’s start.
In its third game of the season, Hunterdon Central kept Mount St. Mary to just six goals in a 7-6 overtime win. It was one of just two regular season losses for Mount St. Mary, which proved to be Somerset County’s top team. Hunterdon Central even held Bridgewater-Raritan to just eight goals in a one-goal loss.
“This year our defensive unit was the best I’ve coached,” Plushanski said. “We had so many seniors back there, and even not having last year, so many of them had experience on the varsity level. We knew we were going to rely heavily on them.”
Hunterdon Central did the same to Rancocas Valley.
Rancocas Valley entered the season with high expectations thanks to a lethal offense, and showcased that scoring prowess by taking down Lenape and reaching the South Jersey, Group 4 final. Against Hunterdon Central, Rancocas Valley only managed seven goals in a loss.
The biggest moment came in overtime, when Rancocas Valley won the opening draw and Hunterdon Central kept them from scoring through the period, before winning the subsequent draw and scoring on the other end to end the game.
No matter which way you slice it, this Hunterdon Central team proved to be one of the top defensive units in recent program history, and Adams led every step of the way.
“I wouldn’t say that if you watched the game she’s someone where 100 percent of the time you’d pick that player out, but she just had big-time plays and that’s what set her above everyone else.”
HUNTERDON COUNTY DEMOCRAT ALL-AREA TEAM
A-Abby Lantos, Hunterdon Central, Sr.
A-Matty Spaeth, Voorhees, Sr.
A/MF-Maddie Ackerman, Voorhees, So.
A/MF-Annabelle Niebuhr, Delaware Valley Jr.
MF-Skyler Brandt, Hunterdon Central, Jr.
MF-Katie McClean, Voorhees, Sr.
MF-Cassidy Cole, North Hunterdon, Jr.
MF-Ally Moore, North Hunterdon, Jr.
D-Morgan Adams, Hunterdon Central, Sr.
D-Olivia Puppo, Hunterdon Central, Sr.
D-Madison Davis, Voorhees, Sr.
GK-Brooke Testa, Delaware Valley, Goalie, Jr.
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Evan Slavit may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @EvanSlavitHS.
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