by Andrew Garda
The juggernaut that is the Montclair High School girls soccer season rolls on. The Mounties added another trophy to the case Thursday afternoon with a 2-1 win over West Orange to capture the NJSIAA North 1, Group IV title at Fortunato Field.
Now the 20-0-2 Mounties will move on to the Group semifinals, where they will meet North 2, Group IV Scotch Plains-Fanwood on Tuesday, Nov 12 at Franklin. Kickoff is scheduled for 6pm.
While the Mounties were in a celebratory mood, it was clear they weren’t satisfied with the sectional title, and captains Sydney Masur, Amelia Platt and Claire Manning were already planning the practice schedule for the next four days with head coach Ashley Hammond.
“I think I’ve mentioned in a previous interview, but we’ve talked about filling the trophy cabinet this year,” Hammond said after the win. “We’re three down – league, county, sectional – and we’ve got one to go. And I think they’re focused on that.”
The top-seeded Mounties, ranked second in NJ.com’s state rankings, had it’s hands full against a tough No. 6-seeded Mountaineers team, ranked ninth.
Both teams came out roaring in the opening moments of the match, with each squad having opportunities to find the back of the net, but neither one able to finish.
Like a pair of heavy-weight boxers, the Mounties and Mountaineers probed each other’s defenses, looking for a crack in the defensive armor, only to be rebuffed each time over the course of the first 20:51 of the game.
Montclair finally cracked the West Orange code with 19:09 left in the half. It wasn’t Masur, Manning, Emily Crane or Sonia Neighbors who found net, however, but defender Baldwin Gittens.
The goal came on a Chloe Nemes corner-kick, which sailed through the defense and found Gittens waiting for it at the back post.
According to the MHS junior, it’s not the position she had been setting up in during corner kicks the last few games.
“I had started going front post the last few games, and then I realized I wasn’t getting the ball,” she said. “So, the play before [the corner], I said ‘I’m going to go back post.”
It was Gittens’ first score of the season, coming at the best time possible for her team.
“It’s the most amazing moment you can have as a defender. Tackles and goal line saves [are always great] but being on the attacking front and showing how you can really support your team is the best feeling.”
Masur said Nemes has been doing great work on her corner kicks all season.
“Chloe, she’s been feeding great corners, so it’s good to capitalize.”
The score would remain 1-0 as the game reached halftime, but it didn’t stay that way for long once the second half began.
In the 6th minute of the second half, Nemes sent another beautiful corner kick across the front of the Mountaineers’ goal, this time finding Masur.
“Chloe’s ball was amazing,” Masur said. “It went straight through and I headed it in. It was a really good cross.”
To their credit, the goal only made West Orange fight harder.
Montclair knew they couldn’t sit back, and instead pushed even harder searching for a third goal.
“A common phrase in football is that 2-Nil’s the hardest lead to defend,” Hammond said. “Which is why we pushed for a third [goal] and didn’t stop. A lot of people might sit in at 2-nil, we did not.”
It was West Orange, though, who scored the next goal as Natalie Nevins sent a ball past Platt with just under twelve minutes left.
It was the second time in two games the Mounties allowed a critical goal late in the game.
“As per the Ridgewood game, we concede one with quite a distance to go,” Hammond said.
While the score re-energized West Orange, it also fired up Montclair, as their captains made sure their team didn’t let up.
“It was really important, especially when they scored the one goal, to keep our heads strong, stay focused,” Masur said. “It’s hard because everyone [in the crowd] is so loud, so we’ll be screaming but you can’t hear anything. But it was definitely important to make sure we’re listening to the captains, especially Amelia [Platt]. She’s dictating around the box, especially in the throw ins because we all know that [WO] capitalizes on their set pieces.”
Hammond said Masur has been a rock for the team all season.
“She’s a special young woman, you know? She’s an incredible leader. We’ve talked about how she barks all the time in the game. Good, bad, indifferent, she’s barking at someone, getting them going positively, putting them right where they need to be.”
Hammond, who was born in the United Kingdom, said that’s unusual for a player in the United States.
“She’s a rare commodity, as it relates to captains, in terms of the fact that she does talk. It’s not common, in the game over here in the States, and Syd’s ridiculous how she speaks. Just an immense leader.”
The Mounties needed that leadership too, as West Orange continually attacked the Montclair goal. They had their chances, but Gittens said Montclair knew how close they were to something special.
“We’d worked all year for this, this is our game, we can’t let up now,” she said of the team’s mentality. “We’ve practiced so hard. [If we] do what we did in practice and we’ll win this game.”
“I think we did that really well, especially in the last ten seconds when they put everyone in the box,” Masur said. “All of us knew, we need to get [the ball] out. This is it, this is for our season.”
That determination allowed the Mounties to stymie West Orange one more time, and the as the clock ticked down to zero, Montclair had it’s second chance to celebrate with a title, the sixth sectional title in the program’s history. Previously they had won in 2001, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015.
Now Montclair turns their attention to Scotch Plains-Fanwood in a rematch of a preseason meeting which didn’t go well for the Mounties.
“We lost to Scotch Plains heavily in preseason, and it’s our only loss in any game, in any form this year,” Hammond said. “It was a battering and Scotch Plains was fabulous.”
Hammond said that loss isn’t going to worry the Mounties, though. In fact, he expects it to do just the opposite.
“We have motivation,” he said. “It’s going to be hard, but I think we’ll be ready.”
They’d better be, because at this point in the season Montclair will either keep their unbeaten season going until there’s no more soccer to play or they’ll go home wondering what could have been.