by Andrew Garda
The Montclair High School and Montclair Kimberley Academy girls soccer teams clashed last Friday in a tense, defensive game which saw the two teams go back and forth across the span of nearly 100 minutes with no score.
That was the case until, Claire Manning of the Mounties snuck a penalty kick past Cougars goaltender Arianna Jobst with less than a minute remaining in the second overtime.
The win secured a 6-0 record for the Mounties, who would drop a game 2-0 Saturday to Watchung Hills, which put their overall record at 9-2.
“What will get missed by most people with that penalty is that [Manning’s] not our main penalty taker,” head coach Ashley Hammond said after the win. “I called for Jill [O’Toole] and they both turned to me, and Jill said ‘Claire wants it.’ So I asked her if she wanted it, she said yes and I’m OK with that. I’m OK with them to have management on the field.”
“I knew there was barely any time left in the game,” said Manning, who was pulled down inside the box on a late scoring attempt. “So I felt that I could score and that it was all on me.”
It’s a high pressure moment for the sophomore, but one she embraced.
“I’m not sure how to explain it exactly, but I tuned in just to the shot. I was able to tune out all the fans shouting, all the teammates and was just able to focus on the goal and the ball itself.”
“We know who our PK takers are and Claire’s certainly in that mix,” Hammond said. “Claire wanted it. She got pushed down and she deserved the goal. She handled [the pressure] maturely.”
Manning’s goal was a familiar way to end the game for the Cougars (4-3-2, 3-1-2).
“We dropped a game to Mount St Dominic the other day in overtime, and it was the exact same thing,” MKA coach Christie Welsh said. “Very end or near end of overtime, counterattack, ball to the weak-side and we’re just caught ball-watching. But if we just stop ballwatching and pay attention to the marks, she doesn’t get that touch, there’s no foul, there’s no PK.”
There have been a lot of close games for the Cougars this season, and goals have been hard to come by for the offense, which has netted just eight balls so far. Luckily, a stout defensive backfield has held the opposition to just five goals in that same span.
Hammond was well aware of that stingy defense coming into the game.
“I’ve seen MKA a couple of times this year,” he said. “And for any team to go this far into the season, only giving four goals, we knew it was going to be very difficult. They have a fabulous back four, very well organized. I know the players from club and they’re just fantastic. So we knew it was going to be very difficult and we were correct.”
Luckily, Montclair has its own great defenders and was able to counteract the Cougars when they generated their own rushes. The two teams disrupted each other’s passes quite often throughout the game, which didn’t allow for a lot of scoring opportunities.
“I think both teams negated each other’s strengths and made it a spirited effort. But it wasn’t the nicest game of football to watch, that’s for sure,” Hammond said.
Montclair had a quick turnaround for their loss to Watchung Hills, and decided to try and give his starters a rest by starting a completely different lineup for Saturday.
“Especially now after playing, effectively, two overtimes, I don’t think it’s fair – we have West Orange Tuesday and to run these girls again [Saturday] would be borderline abusive,” he said.
With the end of the regular season at hand, both the Cougars and Mounties begin to look towards the County and State tournaments. Essex County brackets were announced after press time Wednesday, but both coaches were optimistic.
“Our girls can play with everybody,” Welsh said. “There’s good stuff ahead and I think we are playing better as we go on.”
“I’ve said it before, there’s not been one day where I’ve said [the team] hasn’t put [the work] in,” Hammond said.