Mary Bystrycki and Jamie Ervin will have the opportunity to play more soccer together over the next four years at Kean University, but they were thrilled to get one more game together with their senior class for the Ewing High School girls team.
Ervin scored two goals and Bystrycki made 10 saves to help their 10th-seeded Blue Devils upset seventh-seeded Governor Livingston, 4-2, in the Central Jersey Group II opening round on Oct. 30. Ewing also received goals from Allyson McConnell and Julianna Murrill.
“It was the end of the season so we were all motivated,” Ervin said. “We had never won the first round of states since I’ve been there. It pumped us up to get to the second round. I think we definitely could have beat that team in the second round. It stunk the way we lost.”
The following game was the duo’s last together with the Blue Devils. Ewing gave second-seeded Johnson, a team regarded as one of the best in the state, all it could handle in the sectional second round on Nov. 2. Ervin drove home a shot from outside the box in the second half to tie Johnson before a last-minute goal ricocheted in for a 2-1 defeat that ended the Ewing season.
“A lot of these girls, that was it for them,” Bystrycki said. “My coach said, at least you have things to work for. It was something to hold on to get through that moment. Nothing is the same as high school soccer. We’ve played on the same team since we were 6 or 7. It was a little heart wrenching.”
The state tournament performance showed what Ewing’s 6-12 record couldn’t—the Blue Devils were not a team to take lightly, and they had the ability to play with any opponent.
“Your record doesn’t show the quality of your team,” Bystrycki said. “It’s not like you’re playing the same teams. It shows how much fight we have overall and as a program. It shows the talent we have. To go toe to toe with a team that’s highly ranked, it’s good. I like being the underdog. You can prove yourself.”
Ewing took advantage of that opportunity to impress by eliminating Governor Livingston and putting a scare into Johnson. They did so by continuing to put their best effort into practices and games regardless of the outcomes.
“Any time any team feels they lost some tough ones, it’s often difficult to get back out there the next day and keep hammering away,” said Ewing head coach Ellen Murphy, whose team finished 0-4 in the Colonial Valley Conference’s Patriot Division. “But I pushed the girls to do that and stay the course no matter what happens the day before. We battled in almost every game, almost all the time.”
She added that Ewing plays in the hardest division in the most difficult area of the state. “The CVC is loaded with quality teams and our division contains the best of the best of them”
It could seem hard to recognize how talented Ewing is in the face of its conference losses, but it was apparent once it got out of the CVC.
Murphy said that one of the benefits of getting into Central Jersey Group II Tournament is that they got a fresh start against teams they haven’t seen before.
“You can only do so much looking at somebody’s record, but I guarantee that anyone looking at us on paper thought we were going to be no problem,” Murphy said. “What they don’t realize is we were 100 percent ready to keep battling. I felt we were going to be successful in that state tournament.”
Murphy was confident because she had a senior-driven team. It was a class that she had coached to success in middle school before last year reuniting with them as the new varsity coach. Ervin has started all four years for the Blue Devils and grown along with the team.
“My progression was great,” Ervin said. “Freshman year was my best year. I won a lot of games in overtime. I did enjoy being on the team. It taught me a lot.”
‘We want to be the best we can… It’s the chance to play the game we love for another four years.’
Ervin mostly played a defensive midfielder position this season but still enjoyed her finest goal-scoring year. After scoring six big goals as a freshman and six more goals as a sophomore, she scored eight last year and jumped to 13 goals this season.
Bystrycki was anchoring the defensive end. She has been a mainstay in goal the last two seasons and graduates with 423 saves, while providing consistently strong play every game.
“I think about all the great hard work we put in,” Bystrycki said. “Ewing has been an underdog type team. I love when we go against schools and we rip them apart work-wise and opposing coaches will say we have good talent.
They helped to raise the standard of play for Ewing. The Blue Devils received repeated praise from opposing coaches for their play, and the seniors had a large say in guiding Ewing’s efforts.
“I can’t say enough about these seniors,” Murphy said. “Not only have they been playing soccer together since they were essentially 8 or 9 years old, but they’re also good, kind girls and they’re friendly and they have such a nice friendship amongst each other and a lot of respect for each other as soccer players and people.
“Obviously, defensively with Mary in the goal, she’s a leader in so many ways, vocally, single-handedly keeping us in every game we play, to our senior defenders, Keri Capstack, Jess Shaler ended up in the back because we needed her there and she’s a workhorse who doesn’t stop, and with Jules (Murrill) and Bobie (Custis) and Jamie putting the ball in the back of the net so many times, contributing in big ways. All our seniors contributed.”
The seniors will leave a void with their graduation, but they also leave a strong example of how to practice, prepare and play.
Bystrycki and Ervin have verbally committed to continuing their careers at Kean. It’s a step up that has both of them motivated after finishing their high school careers.
“I’m excited for it,” Bystrycki said. “I want to make the most out of it. Jamie and I are starting to work out and train. We want to be the best we can. It’s a higher level, so we have to raise the bar for ourselves. It’s the chance to play the game we love for another four years.”