by Andrew Garda
Halloween is traditionally a time when people in costumes visit your house and yell “Trick or treat!”
Normally you give them candy. Instead, the Montclair Mounties field hockey team (4-2-1) gave visiting Columbia (0-8) the sports equivalent of toothpaste and dental floss as they walloped the Cougars 8-0 on Saturday.
They then faced crosstown rival Montclair Kimberley Academy on Monday, beating them 2-0.
MHS’ scoring on Halloween was led by Natalie Snyder, who found the back of the cage four times against the Cougars. Phoebe Campbell was next with two scores, while Lulu Rubin and Julia Magaldi scored once each. Magaldi added four assists to her tally as well, while Elizabeth Haefeli, Grace Fitzgerald and Hannah Bernstein each had one.
It was exactly what the team needed after being on the opposite side of a score just like this against a West Essex team that has been a powerhouse in the county for a long time and currently sits ranked No. 4 in the state.
Head coach Mary Pat Mercuro said the 8-0 loss to West Essex was a reminder there is still work to be done.
“We wanted that to be our jumping off [point],” she said after the win over Columbia. “We’ve talked about passing more and team goals, and you look at today and every goal got an assist. They moved the ball nicely. It was a good game to jump off on.”
MHS has been doing well overall during this strange, COVID-19-shortened season, losing to West Essex and Oak Knoll, which is ranked as the top team in the state, but dominating many of the other teams they’ve faced.
Mercuro said with the uncertainty of the year — one positive COVID-19 test could derail a game or even a season — the team is just focusing on what is right in front of them.
“You know what? We’re living in the moment, right?” she said. “Living in the moment, grateful for every time we step on this field.”
That doesn’t mean this team isn’t focused on winning. Every victory better positions them for a good seed in the state tournament later this month, and they know the teams they face have the same aims.
One of those is crosstown rival Montclair Kimberley (3-5). MKA has had its own issues, with star player Lindsay Yu hurt, but there’s still plenty of season left, and a win over MHS would have been a big boost to the program.
“It’s a great rivalry, everybody steps up for the game,” Mercuro said. “It’s anyone’s game.”
Montclair got the tough game they expected, as MKA showed up at Watchung Field determined to give MHS everything they had.
The two squads fought to a scoreless result in the first quarter. While the Mounties had chances, MKA did a tremendous job disrupting them and keeping MHS frustrated.
Montclair came out determined, though, and kept up the pressure on MKA goalie Phoebe Williams, who drew a penalty when she covered up the ball, something that is illegal.
The penalty resulted in a free shot, which Campbell buried in the cage to give Montclair a 1-0 lead.
MKA, however, kept fighting and nearly evened the score at the end of the first half when they broke free of the Mountie defense and rushed toward the Montclair goal.
Goalie and birthday girl Isabel Ginns rushed out to meet the ball and deflected it, buying Montclair just enough time for the clock to run out.
The third quarter resulted in a stalemate as the first did, with MKA pressing several times but failing to slip a ball past Ginns.
Montclair put a button on their victory late in the fourth quarter as Fitzgerald, Rubin and Haefeli battled with MKA defenders in front of the net, and Fitzgerald finished with a shot to make it 2-0.
Mercuro said every goal the Mounties scored on Monday was a “team goal,” and she felt the team played well together, but she said Rubin was an especially huge part of the win. Mercuro had Rubin as a defender for the first half, but then felt like she could have a bigger impact at midfield.
In both cases, the junior could be seen zipping around the field, deflecting passes, moving the ball and causing chaos among MKA defenders and attackers alike.
Rubin has played midfield in the past, and said moving there was a matter of flipping a switch mentally.
“So there’s the mind-set of getting back and hustling to protect your goalie, but then also getting up and supporting the forwards in order to produce offense and be there,” she said.
That was part of how she found herself in the midst of the scrum when Fitzgerald scored.
“[The ball] had rebounded off the goalie a bunch of times, and it was just a bunch of sticks in the mass trying to get it in,” Rubin said of the goal. “And then ‘Jiggy’ — Grace — came running from the top of the circle and just stormed in and ran through the ball into the goal. And you could hear the ball hit the back of the boards and everyone just knew and was celebrating. It was a really exciting moment.”
Rubin said the team feels lucky to be playing and is being very focused on not just winning, but staying healthy.
“After all we’ve been through for so many months, it’s just kind of a miracle that we’re out playing on the field right now,” she said. “We’re not even in school. We saw the opportunity to be doing what we love, and I think we take every opportunity that we can get to be safe outside of school in order to keep in mind that we want this for each other, we really want to have a season and be the best we can be. We’re doing it for one another, and we’re also doing it for ourselves.”
Next up are more tough games, first with a match on the road against Glen Ridge on Wednesday, Nov. 4, with results coming after press time, followed by a home game against Livingston on Friday, Nov. 6, at 4 p.m., before wrapping up the regular season away against Mount St. Dominic on Nov. 11.
After that it will be all about the draw and a run at a state title.