by Andrew Garda
Despite a shattering loss to Morris Knolls on a questionable call in the state finals, the Montclair High School boys soccer team had, by any definition, a tremendous 2018 season.
That doesn’t mean that everybody from the freshman to the seniors know that they can improve on it and make adjustments, even head coach Toure Weaver.
“I even bought a whistle for this year,” he said before blowing his brand new whistle to set off one of the numerous technical drills the mounties work on it everyday.
Weaver’s whistle isn’t the only new thing for a Mounties team coming off 18-1-2 season, including an undefeated conference season.
Gone are key players like Will Buttner, Phillip Cubeddu, Mason Davisson and Ben Middlemiss.
In their place, though, is an incredibly talented group.
“OB is coming back, Evan O’Brien. He was a starter that night against Kearny as a sophomore,” Weaver said, referring to the 2018 overtime loss in the state championship for North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4. “[Gardner] Temkin, who is also a senior, he was injured last year so…it was hard for him to find his way, but this year he has come in fit, in shape and motivated. He’s been looking really good.”
Weaver also pointed out Evan Best, last year’s starting left back, as well as sophomores Felipe Gutierrez and Soren Tollis, who produced a lot of minutes for the Mounties last year.
Another key piece, when he returns from a summer injury, is senior Henry Ogden.
“Ogden, he had an injury this summer and thankfully it’s not as bad as we had thought,” Weaver said. “He’s going to be coming back in the beginning of the season. It’s going to take him a little bit, but once he gets back in there it’s going to be a huge addition for the season.”
For his part, Ogden can’t wait to get going.
“My expectations are trophies, to be honest,” he said when asked about his season goals. “I think we have the ability to win anything we set our mind to.”
Ogden knows it’s tough to replace talent each year, but he also knows everyone on this team is very motivated.
“Everyone just wants an opportunity to play. We try to practice at such a high level that everyone is the best they can be and every time we have an injury or something, it’s an opportunity for someone to step up. And the past couple of years people have been able to. Hopefully we can do the same this year,” Ogden said.
Fellow senior O’Brien agrees, that talent is on the roster.
“We lost a lot of seniors this year, but we’ve got a lot of [rising juniors], that will definitely carry a lot of weight,” he said. “They saw what happened last year and I think last year’s seniors set a really good example for the whole program. They showed how hard you have to work and what it takes to win, and I think the young guys understand that. Our seniors have to lead them [this year], but we’re in good shape.”
A lot of the confidence the team has comes from experience. Yes, the team has lost good players to graduation the last few years, but those remaining behind, like O’Brien and Ogden, have critical experience in big moments.
Perhaps nobody on the team came away from last season with more unexpected experience than goaltender Sebastian Herrera.
After Ben Middlemiss went down with a concussion during the playoffs last season, Herrera stepped into his place.
It was a tough spot to be in, but Herrera played well, made multiple huge saves and performed beyond what anyone could have expected from someone who was thrust into a big moment with the weight of the team on him.
Weaver wasn’t surprised by his performance, though.
“Sebby is a different type of kid. He definitely has a personality, and with that personality, I don’t think moments get too big for him,” Weaver said. “He’s a really good kid and goalies are a little different anyway. And Sebby is a little bit different, in a good way.”
Herrera and his teammates are going to have to keep ignoring the pressure this season as every team wants a piece of Montclair, especially their opening day opponent, Seton Hall Prep, a team they beat twice last season, including in overtime of the Essex County Championship game. That game takes place at SHP on Wednesday, September 4 at 4pm.
The Mounties know there’s a target on their back, but Ogden said they wouldn’t want it any other way.
“That just means every team is coming out their hardest to beat us,” he said. “So we have to make sure every single game we have our mind ready, because we know every team is going to bring 100 percent.”
O’Brien agreed saying the intensity of their schedule is a good thing.
“When we face adversity early, we figure out how to deal with it. We deal with it on a regular basis, because in almost every game we’re going to face adversity [since] our conference is so good, so then when we get into the deeper playoffs, and we face win or go home adversity, we’re able to handle it better because our schedule is so strong,” O’Brien said
Weaver, like his team, welcomes the tough schedule and the challenge.
“We know teams are coming for us this year, we’re circled on everybody’s calendar,” he said. Everybody wants a piece of us. So, let’s rock and roll.”