By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
CHERRY HILL — There aren’t many firsts left to achieve for the Ocean City girls soccer program. A few years ago the Red Raiders won their first overall Group 3 state championship. They’ve won division titles, league titles, sectional titles. Pretty much any girls soccer trophy you can think of is housed in the halls outside Dixie Howell Gymnasium on 6th Street in Ocean City — save one.
Until tonight, that is.
The Red Raiders got a pair of goals from superstar forward Summer Reimet — including the game-winner with less than five minutes remaining — to fight off a very scrappy Bishop Eustace squad, 3-2, at DeCou Fields and win the South Jersey Soccer Coaches Association Cup, which for all intents and purposes amounts to a South Jersey championship. The title was the first in program history, and the first time a team from the Cape-Atlantic League has won the crown on the girls side.
“I’m so excited. This is something we’ve never done before, and I don’t think any CAL team has ever even made it to the Coaches Cup final, so this is amazing. I’m just so excited right now,” said center midfielder Hope Slimmer, whose second-half goal put Ocean City up 2-1.
“I always have faith in Summer, I always have faith in Hope — I have faith in all of them, and I’m so proud of them,” said Red Raiders goalie Tori Vliet. “It’s incredible being able to see these girls play at such a high level and seeing them execute. It’s amazing.”
Ocean City (18-1), the No. 2 seed in the tournament, withstood some heavy early pressure from the Crusaders (13-3-2), the No. 13 seed who knocked off three-time defending champion and No. 1 seed Eastern Regional in the semifinals. But Vliet kept Bishop Eustace off the board with a couple of really nice saves in the first 10 minutes, and in the 12th minute Reimet — a Monmouth University commit — put the Red Raiders up 1-0 when she beat the Crusaders’ keeper in a one-on-one situation.
But the scrappy Crusaders fought back in the second half. With 32:28 remaining, Mia Abbey put one past Vliet after a ball was played into the 6-yard line.
“Honestly, for saves like that, I just have to have confidence in myself and stay in it mentally,” Vliet said, referring to her early saves. “I was definitely down on myself after their first goal, but encouraging my teammates and making sure they keep their heads in the game is something that helps me get back into it.”
Less than 10 minutes later, Ocean City had the lead back as wing Joy Slimmer shoved a pass over to sister Hope, and Hope absolutely ripped a shot from 30 yards into the upper right corner, giving the Raiders a 2-1 lead.
“My sister, she came in and there was a defender running on and she just slipped it across. I took a touch, shot it and it went in. That was great,” Hope Slimmer said.
But Eustace simply wouldn’t go away, and with time winding under six minutes the Crusaders struck again, knotting the score at 2 when Abby Dlug blistered a direct kick in from about 40 yards out. That euphoria was short lived, however, as Reimet — perhaps the best player in New Jersey — took the game over once again. She corralled a pass up to her from Hope Slimmer around the 18-yard line, turned and ripped a shot into the lower right corner, giving Ocean City a 3-2 lead. The goal was her program-record 56th of the season.
The Red Raiders hung on for the final 4:39 despite some valiant attack efforts from the Crusaders.
“I know I can count on her, if I get the ball up to her she can turn on it and put it in the net,” Hope Slimmer said of Reimet. “I thought it was going to be a fight, for sure. We came out here prepared, we warmed up well and just came out here ready to fight. It was a bit scrappy at first — and at the end, too — but we just kept our composure and performed.”
For Vliet, the big victories this season — including Ocean City’s recent win over Mainland Regional in the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament championship — have been extra satisfying. She was the backup for several years to former star goalkeeper Abbey Fenton, who led Ocean City to the 2019 state championship.
Said Vliet, “It’s so great. I was always in the background when Abbey won and it just feels so great that I’m finally able to be a part of the team that wins a game like this.”
What’s next: Ocean City hosts Cumberland Regional on Tuesday in the opening round of the state playoffs, time TBD. Bishop Eustace will take part in the state playoffs on Nov. 5, time and opponent TBD.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays