by Andrew Garda
WATCHUNG FIELD—In the waning moments of regulation against Kent Place Thursday afternoon, Sept. 5, the Montclair High School field hockey team was getting ready to defend a corner from Kent Place, clinging to a 2-1 lead and in search of its first win over the Dragons since 2010.
The Mounties had jumped out to a two-goal lead on the strength of goals by Lulu Rubin and Phoebe Campbell. Kent Place responded with a goal late in the second half, and were pressing the MHS defense for the equalizer.
With time running out, the ball came out of the corner and Kent Place managed to center it, but they were unable to get a shot off before Mountie defenders took control, sending the ball upfield as time expired.
A 2-0 start, including a win over the Union County power who has had the Mounties’ number for nearly a decade, is a great feeling for MHS senior Fiona Campbell.
“Every year I’ve been here and we’ve played them, it’s been so evenly matched,” she said. “Then they get a quick one at the end. So this time, coach even said herself, she thought on that corner that they were going to get one in. And she was like, ‘Here we go again, another year where we almost had it.’ So that [win] felt really good. Especially as a senior, [knowing I’d] never play them again, the win was really special.”
Head coach Mary Pat Mercuro needn’t have worried, not with a stifling defense which held the Dragons to just three shots on goal, two days after that same unit held Cranford to just one shot in a 6-0 season-opening win.
With a solid backfield and steady goaltending from Amanda Murnick, the Mounties are well poised to stifle offenses, which will be key against a difficult slate of opponents they’ll face the next few weeks — including sectional rival Randolph (Sept. 7), perennial Essex County champion West Essex (Sept. 10), state power Oak Knoll (Sept. 17), and division rivals MKA (Sept. 26) and A.L. Johnson (Sept. 28).
So for Campbell, these first two wins were huge.
“It’s really important,” she said. “Having this momentum is going to be really great coming into those games because they’re going to come out as fast as we are [coming out] right now, so it’s really good that we match their intensity.”
Along with the defense and intensity, Campbell said the team needs to find a way to finish off corners more consistently. In both of their first games the Mounties had ample opportunities to create shots and goals off corner chances.
Against Cranford, they were able to convert during the second half, but Thursday against Kent Place, they had never really found the back of the net often enough on those chances.
“We need to get those post balls, so when we send them in to the goal and they’re right on the tip of the post, we just need that one person to just tip it in,” Campbell said. “A few years ago, we had a girl on the team who, that was her main thing. Coach would just throw her in and she would just be that girl. She wouldn’t really do much else, she would just get every single post ball. So we need someone to do that this year, and I think some girls are starting to step up. But by the time we start playing those really good teams, we’re going to need that consistent person.”
Campbell said the younger and newer players are stepping up, including Rubin (2 goals in two games), Elizabeth Haefeli (goal and an assist) and Phoebe Campbell (goal and 2 assists), as well as others contributing in ways that don’t show up in the box score.
“Grace Fitzgerald…Elizabeth Baschwitz, Katherine Cummings, on every single ball, they’re putting their heart out onto the field,” Campbell said. “You can tell they just want to win it for all the seniors and for everyone else on this field.”
Of course, the thing about a hot start is not just keeping it going, but not allowing yourself to get overconfident.
Campbell said Mercuro is always telling them not to remain focused, knowing that comebacks are always possible — something the Mounties know from recent experience, having rallied from three goals down late in the second half to beat Randolph in last November’s NJSIAA North 1, Group IV semifinal.
“There was probably ten minutes left and no one on that field thought we were going to win,” Campbell recalled. “And all of a sudden the momentum flipped. So, it can happen within seconds.”
With the tough slate of games next week, Campbell feels getting overconfident isn’t going to be an issue for the Mounties.
“I think all the girls need to do is stay confident and focused.”