by Andrew Garda
The Montclair High School swim teams are off to a roaring start to their 2019-20 season, as both the boys and girls entered the holiday break with perfect 4-0 records following thrashings of West Orange on Dec. 19. The boys topped the Mountaineers by a score of 131-39, while the girls cruised to a 114-56 win.
“I couldn’t be any happier,” said coach Edward Koeningfest after dueling wins over West Orange. “Girls are doing well, boys are doing well, both [are] 4-0 which is great.”
The boys’ early successes have been highlighted by a momentous 90-80 win over Seton Hall Prep in the season opener Dec. 3, Montclair’s first-ever dual-match win over the perennial Essex County champion Pirates.
“Seton Hall was a real big win for the guys,” Koeningfest said. “They’re in a good groove. The boys, for the first time, have all three relays, which has been tough [to do] over the years but we’ve got a bunch more guys going than in previous years. So far it’s exciting, and we’re only in the fourth meet.”
That win gives MHS the inside track on winning the Super Essex Conference-American Division title, and raises a bit of intrigue for the Jan. 20 Essex County Championship meet, which will be held at NJIT in Newark. Seton Hall has won the team title at every ECC meet since 1998; the Mounties took second place last January.
The boys’ other three wins this season were all more comfortable, including the home win over West Orange. In that meet, MHS kicked things off with wins by the 200-yard medley relay team of Alex Petroff, Justin Ellis, Tommy White and Mizell McEachin, as well as freshman Kallan Sobier, who won the 200 freestyle.
It’s hard to crack the lineup as a freshman, but Koeningfest said he knew West Orange presented an opportunity for the team to roll out some underclassmen who haven’t been able to get in the pool during meets. Sobier was just one of a number of freshmen and sophomores who took advantage of the chance and shone brightly.
“Today we had some younger underclassmen who had a chance to swim and haven’t as much [opportunity] individually,” said Koeningfest, who said the relay teams were kept generally the same.
All told, the Mounties placed high in all events, winning all 11 of them.
According to Koeningfest, the boys are all swimming well as a group.
“To be honest, it wouldn’t be fair if I said any one guy, because they’re just all working as one whole unit. That’s one thing, it’s everyone together. So it wouldn’t be fair to just say one or two, because it’s not. It’s the whole way down. And that’s been great.”
The story was similar for the MHS girls Dec. 19, as they won eight of the 11 events behind a strong individual performance from captain Mia Padberg, who both the 100 freestyle and the 200 individual medley, and freshman Ela Habjan, who took first place in the 100 butterfly and the 100 backstroke. Padberg and Habjan were part of two winning relay foursomes, joining Gaea Caro and Sol Jordan in the 200 medley relay, and Jordan and Salma Benchekroun in the 400 free relay.
Koeningfest said that while all the girls have been swimming well, Padberg and Habjan have really stood out above the rest.
“Padberg is doing really, really well. And Habjan has been absolutely swimming out of her mind,” the coach said. “Some of these young freshmen girls — we’ve got a bunch of them —just fit right in to what we’ve been doing and they’re doing really well.”
With such a great start, Koeningfest is focusing on making sure his swimmers don’t get complacent. Given how the boys responded after the Seton Hall Prep win — keeping the pedal to the metal — he thinks both the boys and girls have a good beat on how to stay winning.
“We’re just keeping our mind focused on the next meet, and clearly we’re looking forward to counties because it’s going to be very interesting just how everything shapes out there.”
Regular-season action returns for the Mountie teams this Tuesday, Jan. 7, when they welcome Caldwell for an SEC-American Division meet at 7:30 p.m. at Montclair State University’s Panzer Pool.