By Andrew Garda
Change is in the air for the Montclair Mounties girls lacrosse team, as it moves up to the top division of the North Jersey Girls Lacrosse League, the Stars and Stripes.
The shift makes things interesting as they face a new, more elite group of teams on the schedule, but coach Ann Jennings feels this team can repeat the success of 2016. It’s no low bar, as the team ended with a 16-4 record, winning a pair of division titles, the Super Essex Conference-American and the NJGLL-Freedom North as well.
While they lost in the Essex County semifinal to Glen Ridge (after beating them in the regular season) and the North, Group IV sectional semifinal to Ridgewood, it was a very good season for the Mounties. Not one to rest on her laurels, though, Jennings has bigger aims — notably to make the New Jersey Group IV finals.
The Mounties certainly have the talent to do it.
At the core of the team are the captains. Natalie Rechan, Jillian Jennings and Sam Wittmann are all seniors and return as starters at their positions.
Rechan and Jennings — who is committed to play soccer at Boston College next year — will handle the midfield position, with help from junior Nora Giordano, who’s committed to Lehigh.
Giordano was the top scorer on the team in 2016, tallying 63 goals and 17 assists. Jennings isn’t too far behind, with 40 goals and 16 assists. Rechan notched 20 goals as well, making this a potent group of middies.
If MHS wants to keep the pressure on the opposition, they have to score points and between the midfielders and attackers, the Mounties offense should be able to provide plenty of scoring. building momentum when the team needs it.
Wittman leads the defense and will be joined by a pair of juniors in the form of Missy Wrede and Jen Heath. The fourth spot is still up for grabs and could go either to another junior, Sam Lee, sophomore Sosi Korian or a combination of both.
Heath didn’t play a ton on varsity last season, but Wittman and Wrede are poised to have great seasons. Both are players to keep an eye on.
Attack is another mostly veteran group, comprised of seniors Maria Daniskas and Olivia Rivera (committed to the University of Arizona), junior Eve Naturale and freshman Nanette Tarver-Walls.
Of that group, Rivera was the most productive last season, with 28 goals and 8 assists.
Finally, Olivia Lynch is back tending goal after missing all of 2016 due to a torn ACL. She’s cleared to play and Jennings says Lynch — who she called “exceptional” before the injury — is looking good heading into the season and will be a huge help to the team’s defensive effort.
Tarver-Walls and attack/midfielder Abby Romano are both freshmen Jennings is looking to see production from, though the heart of the team remains the upperclassmen.
The seniors were on a team that won the Essex County title in 2015.
“They know how to win,” Jennings said. “They know what it takes.”
That’s critical when it comes to a new division and a new schedule, which kicks off with some heavy competition.
The team gets going with games against Glen Ridge at home, then travels to Mendham before returning to Montclair to face West Morris and Ridgewood. There’s also the Essex County tournament as well, right in the middle of April and still at the start of the season.
That’s a lot of tough competition in the first half of the year.
Jennings wants the players to focus on each game on its own, though, rather than get caught up looking at the calendar ahead and worrying about each team or how tough they are.
That said, Jennings is actually very happy with the mentality of the whole team.
“They’re a good group,” she said. “Very unselfish. Very competitive.”
Those are traits any coach looks for in their team and should serve the Mounties well as they make their way through the 2017 lacrosse season.