by Andrew Garda
CLARK—Coming into their Monday game against No. 18 Arthur L. Johnson High School, the Montclair High field hockey team was riding high on a wave of six wins in a row to open the season.
That streak came to an end though, as the Mounties fell to the Crusaders, 2-0.
While it wasn’t the outcome she wanted, head coach Mary Pat Mercuro wasn’t upset by the loss.
“I’m not disappointed [with the girls],” Mercuro said after the loss. “It’s part of the growing process. Being 6-0 is nice, but we weren’t tested like we were today. This loss does more for us than winning our first six games.”
According to Mercuro, the Crusaders are what the Mounties want to be.
“We saw a team that was good and much faster than we were as a team,” she said. “We saw it and that’s where we want to get.”
Not only was this a tough test, fate added to the hill the Mounties had to climb when their team bus was a half hour late to pick them up from Montclair. The surface was also slower than they were used to at Watchung Field. ALJ’s field has higher blades of turf, which slowed the ball down considerably.
Despite this, Mercuro refused to put the blame for the loss on those things.
“We had plenty of time [to warm up]. Every away game, you don’t have the time you have when you’re at home. So if you get 20 minutes [to warm up], that’s sufficient. Other teams do it, why can’t we?”
For the Mounties, it didn’t quite seem enough, as they started off the game looking a bit sluggish.
The team, whose personality had been to play super hard and fast, had a difficult time keeping up with the Crusaders. Still, while ALJ got plenty of chances, the Mounties were able to limit them to one goal, scored at the 21-minute mark.
They had survived the first half, and when MHS came out for the second half, the team played with a lot more energy and intensity.
What changed? According to senior captain Leah Plawker, it was simply that the team realized how much they wanted to win. It made a huge difference in the game, Plawker just wished it had happened sooner.
“I think if we came out in the first half with that same intensity, we could have won this game,” she said. “We just wanted it so bad in the second half, and I know everyone was fighting so hard.”
Unfortunately, the Crusaders kept the pressure up and were able to stave off the frequent assaults by the Mounties forwards. Then, with nine minutes left, ALJ slipped another one by goalie Amanda Murnick.
Try as they might afterwards, the deficit was just too much to overcome for Montclair.
“I thought we had the opportunity when it was 1-0, we had a nice offensive spurt there,” Mercuro said. “If we put that in, it may have changed some things. But once they got their second goal, it got more difficult.”
Mercuro said the Crusaders are always a challenge.
“They’re always a good team,” Mercuro said. “I love [ALJ’s coach’s] corners, I steal her corners all the time. I live here in Union and if they’re playing, I will come watch, if they have a night game or something.”
While Montclair’s win streak is done, there’s still plenty of season left. The Mounties’ goal was to return to being a ranked team. Plawker said that dream remains very much alive.
“We’ve been in [the top 20] in the past and then last year we dropped out of it,” she said. “So we were like ‘next year we’re going to be in the top 20.’ We still have a chance to do that and also to win a sectional championship or counties.”
To do that, they have to rebound from Monday’s loss. The next two games aren’t any easier with Wayne Valley on Thursday at home at 4 p.m. and Glen Ridge on the road Friday, also at 4 p.m.