West Windsor, N.J. - For the first 74 minutes of the 2019 Mercer County Community College (MCCC) women’s soccer season, the team was facing the possibility of another losing year. Against Howard Community College on Aug. 24, the Lady Vikings were held scoreless through the first half and much of the second.
And then in minute 75, Jamie Ervin scored. Five minutes later, she scored again.
The game ended as a 2-1 victory for MCCC and kicked off a 12-5 winning season. Within the first week the team had notched a four game win streak, which was as many wins as the team amassed during the entire 2018 campaign.
“I knew that we could make a post-season run,” said Women’s Soccer Head Coach Elyse Diamond. “The key this year was getting everyone on the team to buy into to that.”
Now, entering the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region 19 Playoffs as the third seed against Essex County College, the Lady Vikings are all in on keeping their season alive.
Some of the team’s confidence is rooted in Ervin’s cleats. Her 35 goals this season – she has 58 over her two-year career – ranks her at fifth in the nation. Add to that her ability to score in bunches – she has seven games with at least three goals scored – and the Lady Vikings have the foundation for a high-powered offense.
But the talent doesn’t end with Ervin. Diamond highlighted a number of players who will be called on for big minutes during the playoffs.
According to Diamond, MCCC’s defense will be anchored by Gabby DeLisa. A freshman from Steinert High School, DeLisa helped the Spartans to the no. 2 seed in the Colonial Valley Conference in 2018.
“Gabby has the most experience on our back line,” Diamond said. She added that DeLisa’s even been able to contribute to the offense, having tallied four assists this season.
“Those two are so versatile,” Diamond said. “Steph can play the mid-field or the line, and Bella has proven to be extremely coachable.”
The high-stakes of the Region 19 semifinals will likely not shake Viana or Moraes. Hailing from the same club team, Viana and Moraes were runners-up to another Lady Viking, Emanuely Dos Santos, in the equivalent of a state championship in Brazil.
But the biggest spark plug for MCCC this post-season might be Giuliana Pocino. A graduate of Nottingham High School, Pocino missed the entirety of her senior year after undergoing surgery on her ACL.
“I knew what she was capable of before the surgery, but you never know how someone will recover from that type of injury” Diamond said. “But she hasn’t lost a step.”
Pocino, who managed to score just two goals through the first 11 games of the season, found her footing towards the end of September. A two-goal performance against Rowan College at Burlington County gave way to a six-goal outing against the County College of Morris. She finished the year with 13 goals, the second-most on the team, and earned NJCAA Region 19 Player of the Week honors from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1.
While Diamond is confident in her team, she also knows not to underestimate Essex. When Mercer faced the Wolverines in September, the game went to overtime after the referee waved off what was originally an Ervin goal.
That game ended as a 0-1 loss for the Lady Vikings and left a bitter aftertaste that fueled a three-game MCCC win-streak.
Among the hallmarks of Essex’s play are their size, speed and strength. “Their back line likes to kick it overhead to the offense and really apply pressure. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think we could beat them,” she said.
“More than anything, we all have to come to play this Saturday,” Diamond added. “Everybody has to be on board. We’re capable of winning the region and I want our team to believe that.”
The MCCC Lady Vikings will travel to Newark to face Essex on Saturday, Oct. 26 at noon.