MHS junior Nanatte Walls-Tarver tries to keep her feet and possession of the ball during Montclair’s 14-5 loss against Glen Ridge in 2018. Walls-Tarver will be one of the focal points of the Mounties offense this season, but head coach Ann Jennings expects her team to step up when opponents focus on the dynamic junior.

by Andrew Garda

While the Montclair High School girls lacrosse team finished the season with a 10-9 record, they made a lot of noise during the Essex County and NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 1, Group IV Tournaments.

The Mounties lost 11-9 to Glen Ridge in the 2019 ECT finals, then lost in the NJSIAA to Mount Olive in a 14-13 overtime heartbreaker.

The Mounties watched as multiple core pieces graduated last Spring, but for head coach Ann Jennings, this team isn’t going to lose a step and could be better.

“I think we have 17 returning players,” Jennings said on a phone call Tuesday morning. “The biggest thing is these girls have all been together, they know one another.”

Jennings feels that could be a huge advantage during a schedule which includes Chatham, Oak Knolls and Summit.

It’s definitely a tough schedule this year.”

Not rebuilding or reloading—resetting

With so many returning players, Jennings doesn’t have to make wholesale changes due to losing seniors. This year’s Mounties are a very experienced group, top to bottom, and it starts in the cage with Jada Auletta.

While Auletta spent much of her time backing up Olivia Lynch, she got a lot of experience during the tournaments, including coming in during the NJSIAA quarterfinal loss to Oak Knoll.

Auletta definitely showed talent when she was on the field in 2018, and Jennings will be relying on her to step it up this year.

“I think with her, it’s going to be the experience of being in the varsity cage,” Jennings said. “She’s a great goalkeeper and she got some playoff time last year. This year it will be dealing with shots from difficult teams like Oak Knoll,  staying poised and patient in the cage and helping to lead the defense with Chynna [Dunneman].”

Communication between Auletta and Dunneman will be key for defensive success, as Jennings said that is the one position group which isn’t set. There are plenty of good options according to Jennings, so she’s not worried about the position overall.

Still, there could be several players on the field who are contributing more minutes than they have in the past,  and that means they will need someone to rely on to show them the way.

Mounties juniore goalie Jada Auletta calls out the defense during MHS’ 14-5 loss against Glen Ridge during the 2018 season. Auletta will take over in goal for Montclair as the team looks to build on 2018’s success and take the next step in 2019.

That will be Auletta, and to a greater extent Dunneman.

“She can help lead them and show by example,” Jennings said. “When you have midfielders who can play both offense and defense, they compliment each other well. And she can show the younger girls how to do that.”

Offensively, Nanette Walls-Tarver will lead the way. A starter in her first two years in the program, and a captain, Walls-Tarver has the experience to take advantage of what the defense gives her, and she is always a threat to score.

Teams will key on her, of course, but Jennings said there is plenty of talent to take advantage of a defense which keys on Walls-Tarver too much.

Jennings said Emily Crane has stepped up so far in the preseason of her sophomore year, and both Abby Romano and Kathleen Giordano will continue to see field time and are dangerous in open space. Yael Gelman, who scored in every game but one last season, is also a dangerous offensive threat.

Captains Ciara Butler and Maddie Crane are both strong presences as well, though Jennings said they lead in different ways. Butler is a speedy scoring threat from anywhere on the field, and has the burst to slice a defense before they can react. Crane, Jennings said, is great at setting up plays and is a very vocal leader while doing so.

It’s not just the veterans who Jennings is looking to contribute though.  Two freshman — Sabrina Martin, and Lauren Morganlander — have impressed this preseason as well, as have several other underclassmen.

That’s what Jennings has hoped for — everyone contributing in any way they need to without complaint or hesitation.

“They are a bunch of really unselfish players, which I think is great,” she said. “Even if Nannette gets shut down, everybody else is going to step up.”

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