by Andrew Garda
It was a bittersweet moment for the Montclair High School girls soccer team as the clock wound down on a 2-1 loss to Scotch Plains in the NJSIAA Group IV semifinals last Wednesday, Nov. 13, at Fortunato Field.
The result was a tough turn of events for a team which had commanded the field for most of the game, as the Mounties held a 1-0 lead with less than 10 minutes to play thanks to Claire Manning’s headed goal off a Chloe Nemes free kick.
But if the defeat was a bitter one, it was still the Mounties’ only one in 2019, allowing their head coach to reflect on what was an incredible, history-making run for the program. When the season began, head coach Ashley Hammond said the aim was to add a lot of hardware to the trophy case. They did just that, winning a very competitive Super Essex Conference-American Division championship, as well as the Essex County Tournament and the North 1, Group IV state sectional titles. While the program’s second-ever Group IV title eluded them, Hammond believes this team certainly added plenty of accolades to the program and did themselves proud.
“I don’t want it to get lost,” Hammond said. “It was an incredible effort that will be historic in terms of Montclair soccer, I think. It’s very hard to go undefeated all the way through.”
The Mounties captured both the county and sectional titles for the first time since 2015, allowing the 2019 squad, echoing Montclair’s dominance earlier in the decade. The Mounties had won four sectional titles in the past nine seasons prior to this year (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015), while that 2015 county title was the program’s fifth in a row.
Much of the core of the team that finished 19-1-2 will be back next season, with key players such as Claire Manning, Sydney Masur, Emily Crane, Sonia Neighbors returning.
Manning led the team with a remarkable 28 goals, followed by Masur with 7 goals, and Neighbors and Kate Giordano with 5 goals each.
There are others who have stepped up too in the last few games, such as Nemes, who had assists on both of the Mounties goals in the North 1, Group IV final win over West Orange, a well as the lone assist against Scotch Plains.
“She’s definitely a fabulous striker of the ball,” Hammond said of the junior, who totaled seven assists for the season. “And we’ve worked hard on set pieces, because we didn’t score any directly in the goal [off free kicks and corners], but we’ve definitely scored off of them. Her service into the middle has been extraordinarily good, and she got on the end of another one today. It’s a shame she couldn’t get on the end of a second one.”
With players like Nemes continuing to grow and progress, and a young crop of rising freshmen looking to get involved, the Mounties are a team which absolutely should continue to make noise next year and beyond.
That a team this young did this much is a sign of great things to come.
Over the course of the season, Montclair had its fair share of big wins — such as 6-2 over Verona on Sept. 19, or 6-0 against Cedar Grove on Oct. 10 in the first round of the Essex County Tournament — the defense and goaltending from Amelia Platt were big factors in their wins.
The Mounties played 1,820 minutes overall, but trailed for only 58 total of that, eight of it coming against SPF, with 40 coming against Livingston and 10 against Mount St. Dominic.
Montclair allowed just 15 goals from opening week to the loss against SPF, with 9 shutouts. Only Verona and Scotch Plains scored more than one goal on Montclair; both scored twice, and only Scotch Plains scored multiple goals in a close game.
Over the course of the season, the Mounties outscored the opposition by 53 goals (68 for, 15 against) and won 14 straight games before tying Livingston in back to back games, including the one for the Essex County title, which they won in penalty kicks.