The Columbia girls lacrosse team has an excellent chance to do something big this weekend: beat West Essex in the county semis and reach the championship game. After defeating Caldwell very easily on Sunday, in the quarters, there's no reason for the Red and Black girls to be intimidated going to West Essex.
First of all, they're a respectable 5-3 right now, with all three of their losses coming against teams which are currently ranked in the Top 10 in the state, according to laxpower.com. And if you asked anyone on that team, they will tell you they should've beaten Glen Ridge on opening day but instead surrendered the last six goals of the contest, basically giving the game away.
Secondly, West Essex is not so big and bad this season. They have a 4-3 record and have two of the same losses that the Cougars do: to Glen Ridge and Mendham. Even further, according to laxpower.com, which is where all of the lacrosse coaches in the state and around the country go for lacrosse information, there isn't much separating them. The Knights are ranked 18th, Columbia is 27th.
Lastly, the Cougars can score with just about any team. They're averaging more than 10 goals per game and unlike the Knights, they've actually beaten a quality team. West Essex does not have a win against any team with a winning record this season, while Columbia knocked off previously unbeaten Madison last week.
This will not be an easy game by any stretch of the imagination, and will likely require a great effort from goalie Samantha Storch and the defense in front of her. West Essex comes in averaging 14.5 goals per game, and Columbia's best chance to win in this one is to not get into a shootout. They need to have long and controlled possessions, win the face-offs and limit the turnovers. If they do that, I think they win.
Early this baseball season, it seemed that the Cougar bats were slightly ahead of the pitchers. Coming into the spring, pitching was supposed to be this team's strength, but the bats have been stronger. That's exactly why it was so encouraging to see that the boys defeated Roxbury 3-1 in extras behind Andrew Rigassio and Rob Buchner in what's probably Columbia's best pitching performance of the year.
With the power and hitting ability throughout Columbia's lineup, if they can get two or three pitchers throwing well, they'll be a very tough out. Right now they're alive in the hunt for a conference championship with a 4-2 conference record (after Monday's 9-1 win over Eastside). Every team is getting beat up in the tough SEC American, which likely means the title won't be determined until the last week of the season.
Two weeks into the tennis season, it's apparent that the county's athletics directors made a mistake in which division to place the Cougars in. This is not a knock on them, but it's kind of unfair for the Cougar tennis squad to be stuck in the SEC American. They have to face Livingston, Newark Academy, MKA, Millburn and Seton Hall Prep, some of the best teams in the state, and I don't see what Columbia did over the past two seasons putting them in that company. They would've been a much better fit in the Liberty Division. Right now they're 1-5, with their only conference win coming against West Essex.
Columbia boys lacrosse has a stretch of three very difficult games coming up, facing three of the top seven teams in the state (Summit, Madison and West Essex, which have a combined 19-1 record) in a span of five days. With the boys' record standing at 3-4, and the state playoff cutoff date on May 8, should the boys lose all three of these games, they will have to be perfect and win a county tournament game to get back to .500 in time. They really need to find a way to steal one of this week's games just to help their playoff chances.
Three most important games of the week
1. Girls Lacrosse at West Essex, Sunday: As I said earlier, reaching the county championship game would be a huge accomplishment. It will take a great game, but Columbia can beat West Essex.
2. Penn Relays, Wednesday to Saturday: Columbia's track team (especially the girls) is so good that when they compete on a national level, they are still among the best of the best. This won't count towards any record, but this could be the first of many record-breaking events this season for the Cougar boys and girls.
3. Baseball at Livingston, Friday: The Lancers are one of the teams that Columbia is currently looking up at in the division. Livingston is always one of the best teams in the area; if Columbia wins, it would make an already crazy division just a little bit crazier.