by Andrew Garda
Sometimes success comes from putting yourself in the right place at just the right time.
That was certainly true on the afternoon of Sept. 14, when the Montclair High School girls soccer team welcomed their opposite number at Montclair Kimberley Academy to Fortunato Field, and edged them 1-0 on a goal by junior forward Maddie Adams-Gurowitz with just over 20 minutes remaining in the match. The score came out of a chaotic scramble in front of MKA’s net which typified the wild nature of the match.
Any sporting event pitting crosstown rivals Montclair High School and Montclair Kimberley Academy against each other is likely to give the fans a show and this was no different. The game had a fair amount of back and forth, and was played very physically by both sides. Adams-Gurowitz’s game-winning goal came off a ball that was sent into the Cougars’ box, where multiple players of both teams — including MKA keeper Arianna Jobst — struggled to control it. While it appeared the ball may have made contact with one player’s hand, it was unclear from the sideline whether it had, and if it did, whose hand it was.
It doesn’t really matter, as the referee didn’t make a call and the ball found its way to Adams-Gurowitz and then into the net.
“I saw the ball was in the box,” MHS head coach Eric Weintraub said after the game. “I thought we had a couple of opportunities to finish it but we didn’t. They tried to clear it but it hit somebody, and ended up on Maddie’s foot and she put it in the back of the net.” It was the one save Jobst couldn’t make on a day when she had seen a dozen other shots sent her way, deflecting them all with the occasional help of a crossbar or post.
That shot total is reflective of a first half that was all MHS, as the Mounties repeatedly flew into Cougars territory, firing shot after shot toward the MKA net. Jobst did an excellent job of keeping the ball out of it and made several key saves, which kept her team in the game when they weren’t able to penetrate the Mounties’ end at all.
“I think the girls, the underclassmen, are just playing with more confidence,” Weintraub said about both this game and the team’s play in general. “They’re comfortable. They’re clicking. They know what to expect from each other. They’re jelling and every day we try to get better.”
Things changed after halftime, though, when the Cougars turned the tables on the Mounties, and began to find ways to attack. The MHS defenders, led as always by senior middle defender Nora Giordano, repelled each foray into their end, but it felt like only a matter of time before the Cougars would find the net.
“At first I wasn’t sure what that was attributed to,” said Christie Welsh, Cougars head coach, of the second-half surge. Welsh was recently inducted into the New York State Girls Soccer Hall of Fame.
“To be honest I was wondering if [MHS] got tired,” she said. “I thought at the beginning our girls got a little nervous. Obviously when you’re in the opposing team’s environment and you have the boys team yelling and all that stuff, it’s going to affect them. They’re in high school.”
Welsh said that when she spoke to the team at halftime, she pointed out that as frequent as the attacks seemed to come into the Cougars’ end in the first half, there weren’t as many as it seemed. A few shots that hit a crossbar or post made the overall number of attacks seem more than they really were.
So the Cougars came out determined to take control of the game.
They nearly did, and the lull in play highlighted a problem Weintraub has been trying to work on with the Mounties.
“We need to play from the first whistle to the last whistle,” he said. “I felt like we were in charge for the first half, and the second half I felt like we didn’t play as hard as we did in the first. So I feel like we have to play for the entire 80 minutes and we haven’t done that yet [this season].”
While MKA was able to generate more offensive chances, the Mounties still got some shots in themselves, but couldn’t find the net. For some players, it seemed as if they might not.
“[I] just told them to be patient,” Weintraub said. “It’s going to happen. Keep working hard and if you work hard good things are going to happen. You have to be patient, work together. We’re a team and we’ll find a way.”
Which they finally did with Adams-Gurowitz’s score, and at the final whistle, the Mounties were still undefeated with a 4-0 record, while the Cougars dropped to 3-1-1.
Unfortunately, the Mounties finally stumbled against Westfield on Saturday Sept. 16, in a 4-0 loss. Westfield is one of the top teams in the state and that game was perhaps the first time the Mounties’ youth and inexperience really seemed to trip them up. Still, a 4-1 record to open the season is certainly worthy of the excitement this team is generating and Weintraub says they haven’t peaked yet.
“I just hope we don’t wait too long,” he said with a laugh.
MKA is also worthy of excitement, and is in the thick of the race in the SEC-Liberty division.
Despite the loss, Welsh was positive about her team’s efforts.
“I actually coached about five of [Montclair’s] kids in club soccer, so I know their talent level and I know how good they are. I just told my girls, on paper, that team should beat us. And we played today like we were equal to them. I’m proud of them.”