MKA freshman Zach Wheeler dodges a Morristown Catholic defender during the NJSIAA Non-Pub B finals on Thursday, November 9. The Cougars were outlasted by MC, which won the sectional championship 1-0.

by Andrew Garda

MILLBURN—The Montclair Kimberley Academy boys soccer season came to an end on the night of November 9 with a 1-0 loss to Morris Catholic in the NJSIAA Non-Public B finals, but that season was still a resounding success.

What coach Rob Leather and his team set out to do when they landed in the ultra-competetive SEC-American division was to compete each week and give the big boys — schools like Montclair, Seton Hall Prep and Millburn — a run for their money in every match.

They certainly did that as they compiled an 11-7-3 record, won the Prep B tournament and had serious runs in both the Essex County and NJSIAA tournaments.

“We won Preps, which was obviously a highlight this season,” Leather said. “I thought our conference play was very good.”

Despite all their accomplishments, the loss to Morris Catholic was still a tough pill to swallow.

“Our goal was alwyas to go one better in this game and we didn’t,” Leather said after the loss. “We lost 1-0 at this point last year. So, we reached a lot of our goals but this was the big one, which is obviously why the kids are so disappointed right now.”

The game was a physical, hard played affair, with both teams colliding across the field. While sometimes the strength of the Crusaders seemed to be an issue for MKA, Leather said it wasn’t a big issue compared to some other problems which cropped up.

“The first ten minutes they came out real fast, really physical but the physicality I don’t think was an issue. We matched them physically, they were a little stronger in areas [and] I think the transition got us a little bit, which I put down to [Marvin Cadena].”

It would be Cadena who put the final nail in the coffin for the Cougars’ season as he took a pass from Anthony Palaez and beat MKA keeper Andrew Garofalo on the lower left side of the goal in the 37th minute of the game.

Cougars junior Seth Kaplan watches his kick head towards senior Ahmed Abukwaik during the NJSIAA Non-Public B sectional final against Morristown Catholic. The Crusaders beat MKA 1-0 on Nov. 9.

While MKA kept fighting hard and had several chances, they couldn’t find the back of the net and that one goal was the difference.

“I don’t think it was our best game,” Leather said. “I thought we weathered their early storm, and then just as I thought we were getting a foothold in the game, they broke in and scored on us. [Cadena] is obviously a quality player, dangerous all evening. His pace was really difficult to deal with. [Morris Catholic] were good, I always thought it was going to be a 1-0, 2-1 game.”

The Crusaders also did an excellent job eliminating MKA’s Dylan Ladda, who led the team with 18 goals this season.

“They marked him with [Justin Homer], and he was good,” Leather explained. “[Ladda] worked hard but didn’t really have any clear chances.”

Ladda will be one of the foundation pieces for the team next season. Leather pointed out that the team had a pair of freshmen and a pair of sophomores who started every game and while they will still be young in 2018, that youth now comes with experience.

While that makes Leather hopeful, looking ahead also makes the loss even more bittersweet as he says goodbye to his seniors.

“This is a tough one for me because these seniors are the first group I’ve had for four years. So to see them devastated after the game was difficult.”