by Andrew Garda
The second time was just as much a charm as the first on Wednesday, May 23, as the Montclair Kimberley Academy boys lacrosse team downed Rutgers Prep two times in less than a week, advancing to the semifinals of the 2018 NJSIAA Non Public, Group B Tournament.
The road ended for the No. 4 seeded Cougars against top-seeded Pingry on Saturday, May 26, as they fell to the Big Blue, 10-4.
Even though the Cougar lost in the next round, there is plenty to be happy about both in their victory last Wednesday, as well as their season overall.
In both cases, the same factors played out for MKA — sound fundamentals, good communication and a solid game plan resulted in wins.
The recent win over Rutgers Prep was a great example of this.
Despite the fact that MKA and Rutgers Prep had just met, the Argonauts seemed unable to correct the issues that plagued them in the first meeting, as the Cougars did an excellent job at both ends of the field, with solid ball movement, communication and stout defense the byword of the day.
In fact, the players felt like they had even managed to improve a bit from the last game.
“Defensively, I think we matched up with individual players more and we played a strong man to man rather than a zone,” junior Max South said after the game. “I think we tried it out last time we played them. We made a few adjustments on picks and when they [set] picks for [Danny Vargas] we immediately slid and that was beneficial to us.”
Senior Nico Espinosa Dice agreed.
“We didn’t change too much, we just had to keep improving. Obviously, it was a new game so we didn’t know what they were going to throw at us but if we have the fundamentals down, in-game adjustments are easy to make.”
That’s been the key for the season, as the Cougars have worked hard to make sure their basic game skills are on point and it led them to a 13-7 record for 2018, the first Prep B title win since 2012, a second-place finish in the Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division, and a big win over crosstown rival Montclair High. It also lays the groundwork for success in the future.
While the team is losing seven players to graduation, they still have a ton of returning talent, such as leading goal scorers Zach Kirsch and Christian Breitweiser, as well as freshman Jake Waldman, who lead the team in assists.
They’ll need to replace goaltender Alex Melitz, who made 343 saves over the last two years as well fellow as captains Ryan Dancy and Nico Espinosa Dice, but the Cougars still have a young core they can draw from over the next few years.
Saturday’s game didn’t end the way MKA was hoping, but looking forward, the Cougars have to be excited at what next season could bring.