The MKA Cougars senior players, cheerleaders and managers line up for a ceremony honoring them during MKA’s Senior Night celebration.
PHOTO BY ANDREW GARDA/STAFF

by Andrew Garda

garda@montclairlocal.news

Senior Night couldn’t have gone better for the Montclair Kimberley Academy boys basketball players, as they cruised past the Livingston Lancers on their way to a 62-51 win on Friday, Feb. 16.

They started things off with an unusual starting lineup. Sasha Aronson, Robert Hollander, Max Booker, Brendan Powell and Michael Butler, who normally get few, if any minutes. But head coach Tony Jones decided that the five seniors should have the honor of taking the court to start one of the last home games of the year.

“They held their own,” Tony Jones said. “They did what we tried to have them do. They took some good shots that just didn’t go in. But I was really proud of those guys.”

For Jones, this was a chance to reward players who show up to work day in and day out, even though they know their floor time in a game will be minimal and perhaps nothing at all. Jones praised his starting five for their work effort and dedication, especially Butler who he said “might be the best teammate out of all of them.”

“Just to see him start and get some playing time, it makes me feel good,” Jones said.

Jones and the Cougars slowly shifted their usual starters — guys like sophomore Luke Kolaja, and senior Carter McNeal — onto the floor but continued to give their bench and the guys on it plenty of time on the floor. Powell and Booker made appearances in the fourth quarter and contributed points.

The Lancers kept things close for much of the game, which Jones said was the result of some sloppy play by his Cougars.

“It was ugly,” he said. “I’m not sure why. We just weren’t great today, and I don’t know if it’s because it was Senior Night, and everyone wants to play and they want to do well, but I think we were a little bit too amped up today.”

The team really got on track in the third quarter, as they began to consistently sink their shots while denying Livingston the chance for a clean look at the basket. The result was a 14-5 quarter in MKA’s favor, and a 36-26 lead entering the final frame.

MKA sophomore Luke Kolaja goes up for one of his four blocks against Livingston during the Cougars 62-51 win.
PHOTO BY ANDREW GARDA/STAFF

More than anyone else on the team, senior Myles Farmer had a huge second half, scoring 12 of his 15 points in the last two quarters and giving the Lancers fits with his ball handling and shooting. On the defensive side of the court, Kolaja continued to frustrate opposing shooters in the paint as he blocked another four shots, keeping his habit of four or five a game alive and not allowing the Livingston interior game to get going.

Kolaja would do some damage on offense as well, dropping 12 points, including a big dunk toward the end of the game. He, along with Farmer, were the only two Cougars to end up with double digit scores, but MKA was able to spread out enough scoring among the rest of the team that once the Cougars took the lead in the third quarter, they were never in any real danger of losing it.

For Jones, the occasion — which involved a halftime ceremony for the senior players, cheerleaders and managers — was a little bittersweet.

“I’m going to really miss these guys,” Jones said. “These guys are a great group of guys, they worked hard for four years and they’re really good kids, which is the most important thing.”

Despite saying goodbye to this group of seniors, Jones is excited for the future of the team.

“We have a solid group returning, with one or two from JV who can help us,” Jones said of next season. “We’re not going to be as deep. We might have to do a few things differently defensively, but I’ll take my guys any day.”

MKA isn’t quite done yet, though. They took on North 13th Street Tech on the road Tuesday, winning 90 to 89. Then they welcomed the Montclair Mounties back for a rematch at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“Because we lost in the Prep Semis, we they had a game to fill,” Jones said. “I asked the guys who they wanted to play and they wanted to play Montclair High School.”

Both games, along with a game against West Orange on Feb. 23 will be good tune-ups for the first round of the NJSIAA Tournament, where they will take on St. Mary’s High School in Rutherford.