by Andrew Garda
LIVINGSTON — Montclair High School girls soccer goalie Amelia Platt was looking for redemption as she set up to face Livingston’s Jadyn Liebman in penalty kicks during the Essex County Championship final on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.
Liebman had taken advantage of a mis-read ball by Platt, scoring when the Montclair goalie came out to play the ball on a long shot, and instead having it bounce over her head. After a brief scrum in front of the goal, Liebman poked the ball in, tying the game at 1-1.
The Mounties had been working hard to break Livingston’s backline, finally doing so when Claire Manning found the back of the net with 30 minutes left in regulation.
Less than eight minutes later, at 22:40, Liebman scored and the Mounties suddenly had to regroup.
Which made for some poetic justice when, after the remaining 22:40 of regulation and two ten-minute overtime periods had passed, that Platt faced off against Liebman with a title on the line.
Liebman shot to Platt’s right side, and the Mountie goalie was on the shot the whole way, making the save and giving Montclair a 2-1 advantage in penalty kicks, as both Manning and Chloe Nemes had scored already.
Shelby Duffy made it 3-1 a moment later, but Livingston beat Platt to make it 3-2. Kiera Hessler scored on the next shot for Montclair to make it 4-1 and then Livingston’s Kylie Mistretta banked a shot off the post and the Mounties were crowned champions.
Head coach Ashley Hammond said he left it up to his goalies to decide which one would take goaltending duties in the event of penalty kicks, but he had complete confidence in both.
“We have another keeper who’s brilliant at penalties – Molly [Brumbach] – and I went to the goalkeepers at the beginning of the first overtime, looked to them both and said “Amelia, do you want the penalties?” Hammond explained after the win. “And she said “Yes, I do.” And I said “They’re yours.” So, I hope I gave her the confidence by saying that. If I had given them to Molly she would have had twenty more minutes thinking about it. Amelia said “I want them” and guess what? She saved one – the big one.”
“Obviously I let in a goal during the game and I felt like I let down my team’” Platt said. “I like PKs, it’s kind of like where I get my motivation and adrenaline. When Livingston was dominating in overtime, I didn’t hope to go to PKs, but I knew if we did I was ready to step up, because I felt like I needed to make it up to my team.”
As much as Platt felt she’d let her team down with her mistake, she knew they still had her back.
“It’s really easy to get super negative on the field, and screaming,” she said. “But when people on my team help me and tell me things to do, I know it’s coming from such a good place and I know they’re just trying to support me. Right when I ran past them [before penalty kicks], I literally looked every single one of them in the eye and was like “You’re my family.”
When it came time to block those penalty kicks, Platt said her formula is very simple — pick a direction, and go.
“Before they walk up to the ball, right when I know it’s my turn, that’s when I decide,” she explained. “Unless if they’re looking, say, right really, really hard, then maybe I’ll change my mind. But before they shoot or [even] before they run up, I decide “OK, I’m going to go right this time.” It really helps you because I could hesitate if I didn’t. So, when I saved it, I had decided I would go right the entire time.”
Platt said even with the support of her team, it was hard to come back from the goal during regulation.
“I was honestly scared that we wouldn’t even get to PKs, because I was just out of it right away,” she said. “My team picked me up and they were so supportive, it was kind of what got us through. And then in PKs, the adrenaline was shooting throughout my body and I was ready.”
It was a near thing for Montclair, and Hammond credited the Lancers for the fierce play they showed and their ability to disrupt the Mounties’ offensive flow.
“The girl in the back, [Caitlyn] Leffler, is excellent,” he said. “She’s a really big, strong player and stepped really quickly and made it really difficult when she stepped. They’re so talented all over the field, they just managed to close down space.”
Hammond said Livingston’s game-plan really put the Mounties in a tough spot.
“I thought the first twenty minutes we were shell-shocked, then we dragged our way back into it and we were real comfortable when we scored,” he said. “But Amelia [Platt] unfortunately made a mistake, she knows it, she admitted to it, but at the end of the day she saved a penalty.”
Montclair hasn’t seen the last of Livingston, and in fact the two teams face off again on Monday. Hammond said meeting the Lancers twice in a handful of days isn’t difficult.
“We’re on a mission,” he said, referring to the Mounties’ undefeated season. “The girls have been terrific all year. We talked about mental strength at every break [today], I didn’t say much else. They knew the game-plan. We just talked about how mentally strong we’ve been, and I think throughout today, in every aspect they’ve shown once again that they are just so strong mentally.”
That mental toughness was evident on Saturday, in everything from the Mounties’ determination to break the Lancers’ backline to Platt dusting herself off after a big mistake to make an even bigger save. Hammond said that how mentally tough the team is will determine how far they can go in the upcoming state tournament.
“They have the technical ability, that was never in doubt. It was whether they could mentally find a way to keep in the game,” he said. “You saw the tears at the end of overtime, they were crying. [But] they all went round to each other, sorted each other out, got focused and bang. It was difficult, but we found a way.”