by Andrew Garda
A battle between the Montclair Kimberley Academy and Montclair High School field hockey teams is always a show, and their game on Monday, Oct. 1 was no different.
A tight, fast-pitched affair, the Mounties came out ahead 2-1, on the strength of goals by Elizabeth Haefeli and Sophia Pisano.
Julia Hansen scored for the Cougars.
Mounties head coach Mary Pat Mercuro was pleased with the win against a very tough Cougars team.
“MKA has one of the best teams they’ve had since [MKA Assistant Athletic Director] Injoo [Han] was coaching. Back with Jasmine Cole and Gia Guccione,” Mercuro said, referring to two former Cougars who went on to play at the University of Penn, with Cole finishing at Rutgers.
“Lindsey Yu is an amazing player. Their backs are amazing, they have fast forwards, they’re athletic all over the field. And what we did was, we tried to throw a wrench into the game. Our girls stepped up and played together and we came out on top.”
The momentum wobbled back and forth with neither team able to convert offensive chances.
It looked like the Mounties were going to seize it, however, when MKA goalie GiGi Jacobson was called for covering the ball.
Montclair had a penalty shot, and it looked like they were going to take the lead.
That is, until Jacobson made an amazing save on Fiona Campbell’s stroke and the momentum shifted back to the Cougars.
“She’s amazing,” said MKA head coach Gia Nappi. “I thought [that save] was going to be a game changer, because it was an unbelievable save. Hopefully next time our girls will feed off that.”
The first half ended in a scoreless tie, and the game went back and forth when play resumed after the break.
And then Haefeli got one past Jacobson off a nice pass from Sophia Pisano.
MKA fought back, but with just over 12 minutes left, Leah Plawker took a shot that was deflected in by Pisano.
Down 2-0, the Cougars were in a tough spot. But two minutes later, they responded as Hansen snuck one past MHS goalie Amanda Murnick to make the score 2-1.
“I’m happy that they came back and scored when they were down by 2,” Nappi said. “It shows growth, especially with them being so young and it being a high pressure game. We don’t get a lot of these games, this is probably our first one all year.”
Re-energized, the Cougars kept pushing into Montclair territory, but Murnick made several fantastic saves to keep the Mounties on top.
Mercuro pointed to several big defensive moments for Maddie Crane, the consistent leadership of Sosi Korian and the excellent work of LuLu Rubin in shadowing MKA’s talented Lindsey Yu as helping a lot.
“[She] did a phenomenal job on [Yu],” Mercuro said. “In years past I would put a mark on an outstanding player, and they’d have to come out every 10-15 minutes. She played the whole game against Yu.”
Outstanding individual performances aside, Mercuro said no one player got the Mounties a win — it was a team effort, something which they have been working towards as they battled through recent losses.
“This team did something that my other teams didn’t. They double-teamed, helped cover Lindsey and helped LuLu out. It was just a great team victory.”
Nappi said that Yu being marked was nothing new, and something the player has had to deal with for some time. It also works in MKA’s favor by opening up chances for other players.
“People don’t understand, the girls around her are great too. So when they [mark her] it gives our other girls an opportunity to showcase themselves. It can kind of shock teams because they thought they only had to cover one or two players and then they realize there are more out there.”
Now both teams get set for the Essex County Tournament where MKA has received the No. 2, and Montclair No. 3, meaning the teams could meet up again in the semifinals. MKA receives a bye until then, while MHS will play either Livingston or Columbia in the quarterfinals to get to the Cougars.