The Montclair Kimberley Academy Cougars celebrate their win over West Orange and their berth in the Essex County Tournament Finals.

by Andrew Garda

CALDWELL—While the Montclair Kimberley Academy high school girls soccer team didn’t win outright, their 1-1 tie with Livingston on Oct. 28 gave them a tie for the championship — the first time a Cougars girls soccer team has ever won the Essex County Tournament.

“[The program has] only been in one other final, and we lost,” head coach Christie Welsh said after the game ended late Saturday night. “So this is the first [team] to ever win. And that’s fantastic.”

For Welsh, even a shared championship is a tribute to how hard the team worked. Even just making the finals was something worthy of celebration, considering what they had to overcome to get there.

“These girls had to defeat the No. 4 seed [Glen Ridge], the No. 1 seed [West Orange], and play two extra games in those first rounds because they weren’t a top-four seed. I told them to get here, doing what [they] had to do, with the smaller team that we have is unbelievable.”

They had to do it in a game that started at nearly 8 p.m., against the defending 2016 champion as well. The Cougars had advanced to the final against the Lancers by defeating top-seeded West Orange in a tough game decided by penalty kicks after two scoreless overtime periods.

Senior Kerri McGuire carried the team offensively for much of the game then, and repeated the feat Saturday night as well, scoring the Cougars’ only goal.

Saturday night was a somewhat more restrained performance for McGuire and the Cougars, who knew that being careful with the ball and focusing on defense were the key to staying in the game against a tough Livingston team. Still, McGuire stepped up when her team needed her to.

“It’s one of those things, it’s like you’ve gotta rise to the occasion,” McGuire said. “But my teammates definitely inspired me, and pushed me.”

Senior MKA midfielder Kerri McGuire moves the ball downfield during the Essex County Tournament final against Livingston Saturday, Oct. 28. The two teams would battle to a 1-1 tie and a co-Championship.

While McGuire did her best to create some offense, goalkeeper Arianna Jobst and her defense worked hard to keep Livingston from finishing their shots.

Jobst had her work cut out for her, stopping 13 shots and constantly having to direct her defense while the Lancers spent long stretches of time in the Cougars end. Only once did Livingston score, on a rebound that was just out of Jobst’s reach and her defenders couldn’t clear.

“Arianna [Jobst] was fantastic again for us tonight,” Welsh said of her keeper. “It was unfortunate, the goal, and I know she’s upset about it. The fact of the matter is, she stood on her head for the rest of the game.”

Welsh was also proud of the defensive effort.

“I really want to give kudos and a shout-out to my back line. Lily Pryor, Sarah Hobbs, Alexis Riley and Rylie Frieder have been fantastic through this entire process.”

Jobst echoed the sentiment and added that having the four acting as a wall in front of her makes a difference.

“It’s a ginormous deal, because being a goalie, sometimes it feels like once it goes through the other 10 people … you’re alone,” Jobst said. “But with the back four we have, I know I’m not alone. And if I make a mistake, players like Alexis or Sarah just pick it up and I’m saved.”

For Welsh, the improvement Jobst has shown over the two seasons has been impressive.

“She has all the tools to be one of the top goalkeepers at any level she’s at. She trains on her own, she trains with the goalkeeper coach. The improvement between last season and this season in her kicking game has been tremendous. She’s got areas that she knows she needs to focus [on] and she’s going to continue to develop those and I am extremely proud of her.”

MKA goalkeeper Arianna Jobst directs the defense during the Cougars’ 1-1 tie with Livingston at the ECT finals.

Jobst may seem irreplaceable, but there was a moment when it seemed the Cougars would have to find out how to live without her. Late in the second half, a Livingston player broke free and took a shot on net. Jobst tried to tip the ball over the net, but it hit the crossbar instead and bounced back toward the Lancer.

Jobst quickly dove for the ball, and collided with the other player.

The officials made Jobst leave for a few moments, though, and freshman Isa Lucas stepped in to replace her.

Lucas didn’t have to handle the ball much, but did a solid job until Jobst was allowed to re-enter the game.

After exchanging goals in the second half, the Cougars and Lancers would move into overtime. However, neither team could find a way to break free during those two 10-minute periods.

According to ECT rules, in finals games during the tournament once the overtime periods are done, the game is declared a draw and the championship split.

While neither team left the field totally happy, Welsh said the Cougars will use it as motivation. It worked against Morristown-Beard on Monday, Oct. 30, during the Prep B Tournament, and the win sent them up against Princeton Day for the final Wednesday after press time. They’ll also use it for motivation during the NJSIAA North, Non-Public B quarterfinal Friday at home against Newark Academy.

“I’m happy that they’re not as elated as one might think,” Welsh said after the ECT game. “I mean, a game ends in a tie nobody is super happy. If you’re not happy today, well put it on the field, we’ve got a game Monday.”

For McGuire, there is unfinished business, but also a joy in doing what hasn’t been done before.

“We wanted to make history,” she said. “We wanted to prove everyone wrong. It was one of those thing nobody’s ever done before, so that atmosphere leading up to the event was huge and really helped us out on the field.”