By Mike Gurnis
NEWARK — Morristown-Beard left no doubt as to who the top team in New Jersey was.
After it was stunned by Princeton Day in the Prep Tournament semifinals on Feb. 3 for the team’s first loss to an in-state opponent since 2019, Morristown-Beard went into the state tournament looking like a team that was determined not to suffer that same fate once again.
The Crimson were dominant in the state tournament, rolling to wins over Randolph and Pingry in the first two rounds, setting up a rematch with that same Princeton Day squad in the final.
In the championship game, the top-seed in Morristown-Beard got out to a quick start and kept its foot on the gas in another dominant performance, dispatching of second-seeded Princeton Day 7-0 to win the program’s second-straight NJSIAA state championship at Prudential Center.
Morristown-Beard won the inaugural state championship in 2019-20, before it wasn’t held last season due to COVID-19. So, it was a championship repeat for the Crimson.
“It was amazing. I did this my sophomore year and it was unbelievable,” Logan Sutera, who finished with two goals, said. “Last year, unfortunately we didn’t get to do this, which I wish I could’ve with the amazing senior class last year. Coming here with the freshmen, they’re going to remember this for their whole entire lives. It’s just unreal.”
Leah Stecker finished with four goals and an assist for Morristown-Beard. It was her first game against Princeton Day after missing the first two meetings of the season as she was out with an injury.
“I honestly think in a way losing against PDS the second time helped us,” Stecker said. “We didn’t want to lose to them again. That made us come out stronger. I didn’t play them at all this season, I have to see what they’re about. No one beats us. We just popped a few in and the game went our way, it was awesome.
It established its authority in the opening minutes, as Lilli Warnock scored a power play goal 5:29 into the game, before Logan Sutera scored another just under four minutes later.
Then, in the second period, Morristown-Beard furthered its stranglehold on the game, as Leah Stecker scored 3:45 into the second period to make it a 3-0 game. Princeton Day had a golden opportunity to get on the board and back into it late in the period, as Morristown-Beard took four straight penalties causing a pair of abbreviated 5-on-3 opportunities.
But the Crimson killed those off, and struck for a pair of shorthanded goals, the first being a 2-on-0 in which Stecker set up Sutera for her second of the game. Then 1:48 later, Stecker put home the rebound of her own shot for her second tally of the game, making it a 5-0 game.
Stecker added two more in the third to seal the game. Goalie Gracie Meyers stopped all 11 shots she faced to earn her 10th shutout of the sason.
“All you have to do is watch (Stecker). She’s a very dynamic player,” Morristown-Beard coach Bruce Driver said of Stecker. “She has tremendous skill and there’s no secret to why she’s going to play Division I college hockey next year (at Penn State). Her skill level alone is much higher than a lot of players out there. We’re just fortunate to have a player of that ability but we have a lot of good players on our team. They’ve bought in to how we want them to play the game and it showed today.”
Driver also said of Meyers, “Our goalie has been fabulous all year long. Any time there was a great scoring chance, she just shut it down.”
It was a big moment for girls ice hockey, as it got to hold its state championship on the same day as the boys finals, giving the sport a golden opportunity to showcase. While the 11 a.m. start time may not have been ideal, both schools made the most of it and managed to get sizable student crowds in the building for this one.
Morristown-Beard, for instance, had over 125 students get the day off from school and made their way to Prudential Center to support their team.
“It’s very special. I did not expect that many people to come,” Stecker said. “It was awesome. The school really tried hard to get everyone here. So many people sent me pictures f them live-streaming it throughout the school too. It was a big deal. I’m very impressed so many people came today. It was a big turnout, it was good.”
Driver added, “We had a little push at school to try and get that done. We’re going into Spring Break on Friday and now you’re talking about can we just cancel school on Monday, then you just go Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. They’re very supportive of the girls in allowing some of the kids to come and watch the game today. That was great.”
MBS — Lilli Warnock (Kailin Kane, Julie Jasaitis) 9:31 PPG
MBS — Logan Sutera (Jessica Sperling, Julie Jasaitis) 5:43
MBS — Leah Stekcer (Kailin Kane) 11:15
MBS — Logan Sutera (Leah Stecker) 4:55 SHG
MBS — Leah Stecker (Jessica Sperling) 3:07 SHG
MBS — Leah Stecker 8:30
MBS — Leah Stecker (Brooklyn Chen, Jessica Sperling) 2:20
Shots on goal: Morristown-Beard 31, Princeton Day 11
Saves: Abigail Ashman (Princeton Day) 24 , Gracie Meyers (Morristown-Beard) 11
Team records: Morristown-Beard 17-3-1, Princeton Day 14-6