Montclair Kimberley’s senior Kirsten Zeug (left) and junior Julia Hansen (center) battles West Essex freshman Alexandra Shizas (right) for the ball in the West Essex side to the right of West Essex goalie Tara Smith (97).
Edward Kensik for Montclair Local

By Edward Kensik

for Montclair Local

MONTCLAIR—The Montclair Kimberley field hockey fans were hoping that they could get that David-Goliath feeling on Saturday.

The Lady Cougars were looking to dethrone the Goliath that is the West Essex field hockey team that has dominated the Essex County Tournament over the last 15 years so much so that only Montclair has defeated them and that was only twice. The Lady Knights had won the last seven ECT titles.

While the David in MKA did not materialize on Saturday, the Lady Cougars believe they are getting closer to having that David feeling in future years.

Montclair Kimberley tied West Essex at one in the second half, but could not keep the momentum going as the Lady Knights added to their trove of ECT titles as the Lady Cougars dropped a 3-1 decision in Montclair.

“I am really proud of my team,” said MKA head coach Gia Nappi. “All the girls played hard for 60 minutes. I think that we can take a lot of this into the state tournament.”

With the defeat MKA dropped to 10-5-1 on the season. The Lady Cougars are the fourth-seed in the North Jersey Non-Public group and host fifth-seeded St. John Vianney on Halloween. For Nappi and the Lady Cougars, this was the first time for this group of MKA that was last in the ECT title game in 2009. “For these girls it is the first time in the finals,” said Nappi. “It’s a step up for this program.”

One of the biggest turns in Saturday’s contest came six minutes into the second half when Montclair Kimberley was called for a penalty. And in turn West Essex’s Ellie Decker would flip a shot on a penalty stroke over the shoulder of Lady Cougars senior goalie Gigi Jacobson. The result was a 1-0 West Essex lead with 24 minutes left in the game.

Nappi said that his team never truly rebounded from the controversial call that resulted in the penalty stroke. “I think it was something that weighed on their minds,” said the MKA head coach about the penalty shot that she thought should not have been called.

While the coach pointed to the foul as the turning point, her team actually came right back a little more than two minutes later as senior Stephi Vencalkova hard shot got past West Essex goalie Tara Smith to notch the game at one with a little less than 22 minutes in the game. Sophomore Linda Yu assisted on the goal.

It was the first goal for MKA against West Essex after they were shutout, 3-0, on Oct. 3 in North Caldwell.

Montclair Kimberley players huddle around senior Stephi Vencalkova who scored a goal to tie the game at one against West Essex. MKA would fall, though 3-1.
Edward Kensik for Montclair Local

But unfortunately for MKA, West Essex came storming back as the Lady Knights freshman Cait Lutz scored off a corner as the Lady Cougars were down by one again this time 2-1 with a little more than 19 minutes left in the game.

With that goal it sort of took the sails out of the MKA offense that had a couple of opportunities in the second half, but not as many as the first half or West Essex’s chances.

And with 14 minutes remaining in the match, West Essex junior Emily Holleuffer pretty much snuffed out the David-Goliath dream as she fired a shot by Jacobson that put the Lady Cougars now behind 3-1.

Going into the second half, MKA felt pretty good after pretty much going toe-to-toe with West Essex in the first half and actually had some of the better chances.

But the game was scoreless for the first 30 minutes. “I think going 0-0 in the first half was a big accomplishment,” said Nappi.

And taking that first half and other kernels from the match, the MKA head coach believes this will be the start of a run for the program to reach the Essex County Tournament finals and dare say it, a ECT title in the future as soon as 2019.