by Andrew Garda
The Montclair High School girls lacrosse team left no doubt, jumping out to an early lead and cruising to a 14-1 win over Park Regional in the opening round of the NJSIAA North 1, Group IV state tournament Monday afternoon at Woodman Field. The fourth-seeded Mounties scored six goals in the first five minutes of game time and never looked back.
It could have been a much bigger margin, but head coach Ann Jennings had her team ease off the gas pedal, moving the ball around and not shooting at an overmatched Wildcats goaltender. Jennings and her staff also took the opportunity to substitute liberally from their bench.
“It was nice to have the home seed and have the upper advantage in a game like this,” Jennings said after the victory. “It was good to get [the younger players] in, with the starters too. That’s our future, so it’s good to get them the playing time. We’ve had a lot of close games, which makes it hard to sub. So, a game like this was good.”
While the usual suspects, like Yael Gelman, Nora Giordano and Nanette Walls-Tarver put points on the board — each of them with a hat-trick — the team got to see some new faces on the scoresheet, like Madeline Crane, Abigail Russman, Eve Naturale, who along with Kate Giordano and Abby Romano, each scored one goal.
For much of the game, the Mounties merely moved the ball around the field, keeping it away from the Whippany Park defense.
While the danger is that a team can get bored, the Mounties kept their focus, knowing this was an opportunity to get a little live-action practice in as well as getting younger players some minutes. Even when the game is not in doubt, Jennings and her staff kept their team working with an eye to the future.
“You have to be motivated and keep looking forward,” Jennings said. “And a thing like today, working on the stall, that’s what we’d have to work on against [defending champ] Ridgewood. So, all these things would help us prepare but we obviously have to take it one step at a time and not get ahead of ourselves.”
Not getting ahead of themselves involves not looking past Thursday’s opponent, Mount Olive.
“You can’t take anything for granted. Mount Olive is the fourth seed and in states anything can happen,” Jennings said.
Montclair and Mount Olive haven’t met this season, and the Marauders have lost just one time so far. That makes this a tough game and one the Mounties cannot take lightly.
Despite that, it’s also one that they should feel good about. With several days to practice before Thursday’s game, Montclair will have time to review film and gameplan, something which allowed them to nearly pull off an upset against Glen Ridge in the Essex County Tournament finals.
“For Glen Ridge, we had a plan for every situation and they knew exactly what Glen Ridge was going to do,” Jennings said. “We worked hard on the draw, we worked hard on our offense.”
Along with practice and a solid gameplan, the Mounties will also rely on their seniors, as they have all season.
“It’s a great senior class,” Jennings said. “Obviously you have our captains [Olivia Lynch, Missy Wrede, Jennifer Heath, Nora Giordano]. Then there’s Sam Lee and Eve [Naturale]. I think they’re all great leaders and a great unit for the team.”
For Jennings, part of the seniors’ effectiveness has been continuity. Naturale, Heath and Giordano have been starters for three years. Lee didn’t get a lot of time as a junior, but she ended up a big contributor on defense this year.
The Mounties have the advantage of a ton of young players going forward as well, so that continuity will continue.
“Nanette’s a huge player for us and you have her and Abby Romano played all last year and all this year. So next year will be a big year for them as juniors. Then you have our goalie, Jada [Auletta] who’s going to step right in.”
Add in players like Kate Giordano, Chynna Dunneman and Izzy Hall — all of whom saw significant minutes on Monday — and you have the makings of a very good team for some time to come.
“Our future is definitely bright,” Jennings said. “This year we had a bigger bench, and that’s great because they all practiced with us and know our system and they have a chance to step right up next year.”