by Andrew Garda
Basking Ridge — A great season for the Montclair High School girls field hockey team came to an end when they faced the top seeded Ridge in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 tournament, falling 2-0.
While the No. 2 seeded Mounties fought until the final whistle, they found themselves struggling in the first half of the game against a team ranked No. 13 in New Jersey, as Ridge did an excellent job of keeping Montclair pinned in their offensive zone.
“Their midfielders pushed up offensively, and that’s a recipe for success,” said head coach Mary Pat Mercuro. “They just kept that ball in the circle, played the whistle, and kept playing until [the ball] was in. Their two goals were nice goals.”
Both goals seem to come in response to the Mounties managing to press the Red Devils and get a shot off. However, Ridge goalie Emma Albee would get in front of a ball, or the shot would go wide, and the Red Devils would reverse the field.
MHS goalie Amanda Murnick did a good job of turning aside most of the Ridge shots, but in the case of both goals, the ball just didn’t get cleared quickly enough and found its way past her.
After halftime, Montclair played a much more even game, but Ridge still managed to dominate possession for most of the second half.
Montclair didn’t give up, though, even as time began to wind down. They had several good scoring chances in the closing two minutes of the game, and played until the very last whistle even though the game seemed decided.
“I think, because we’re young up front, we let it out of our end too easily,” Mercuro said. “That just comes with experience. I plan on being back here next year in this game, and with different results because I think these young kids learned a whole lot this year.”
Mercuro said the way the team battled late and the improvements she saw in the younger players this season came in large part due to the effort of her senior players.
“There’s five of them with the two goalies, but they did their best. They taught these [other] girls a whole lot,” Mercuro said.
Mercuro said she was disappointed that the team couldn’t give the seniors a win for a send-off, and knows how much each senior wanted to win, especially Fiona Campbell.
“No one wanted to win this game more than Fiona,” Mercuro said. “She’s been on this team for four years and hasn’t won a section.”
That desire, Mercuro said, fed the players around Campbell and her senior teammates.
Despite the result, Mercuro said she feels the program continues to have a bright future, as the youth
“I think the kids around [them] stepped up and we’re going to be ok. We’re going to come back. That’s all I can say at this point. Our youth played big today. Next year they’ll play bigger.”
Next year is a long way off, however, and the Mounties have a long offseason to think about what might have been.
Mercuro expects the Mounties to get over the hump in 2020, as she said they have more than enough experience in big games to get the job done.
“I think we’ve been in [the finals] four years out of the last five, but we haven’t won it,” Mercuro said. “So how much more experience do we need? There’s no excuses. We’re going to work hard in the offseason, and we need to win one of these. Soon. Next year.”