BY ANDREW GARDA
The Montclair Kimberley Academy girls soccer team notched its first win on Thursday, Sept. 9, with a 3-1 win on the road over Millburn.
They kept that road momentum on Monday, Sept. 13 as well, beating Livingston 1-0 to put their early record at 2-0.
The wins are a nice way to start the season for a team that has a small roster. Overall the program, both varsity and junior varsity, has 28 to 30 players, head coach Jordan Raper said.
“I think we have 16 varsity kids because we’ve chosen to have a JV team,” he said “JVs got like 12, so in total we got like 28 to 30 kids, depending on injuries and stuff.”
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Raper said that if they hadn’t chosen to have a junior varsity team, too many of the younger kids would never have made the field.
With those 16 varsity kids, Raper will look for a way to fill the void left by the four seniors who graduated last year.
Abigail Clothier, Julia Conforti, Sarah Hobbs and Stella Marshall were big parts of last year’s 13-1-1 (8-0 SEC Liberty) and won’t be easy to replace.
“Abby Clothier was mainly a lacrosse player, but she was a four year Varsity [soccer] player. So, you know, her experience, strength and maturity were key,” Raper said. “Juliet Conforti was a great player, Sarah Hobbs was a great player and Stella Marshall was a great player. You’re not going to replace those players. I think every year we say about how are we going to replace players, but it’s too big of a step. Because we don’t have 10, 15 juniors waiting to rise. We have two seniors this year. So [last year’s seniors], they’re the ones that you’re like, OK, if we can’t replace that productivity player for player, how are we going to cover for them?”
In many ways, there’s only one choice as the Cougars have to rely on younger players.
That’s not as daunting as it might be with their two top scorers from last season being juniors. Bella Douglas had the most goals on the team in 2020, with 26. She added 14 assists, just four behind Sofia Vinasco, who had 18 assists to go with 15 goals.
In net will be sophomore Salange Bell, a Montclair athlete who will be in her second year as a starter.
Freshmen Helen Clothier and Aliyah Rasheed will be on the backline with senior Chloe Skipper and junior transfer Logan Furlonge, who came in when her father took over as school headmaster.
At midfield will be juniors Douglas, Brooke Huntington and Vinasco, with sophomore Lia Lim stepping in when needed.
Senior Katherine Hulse will take on the outside right side, with sophomore Maddie Polanskyj on the left.
Raper will also look to the seniors he does have such as Skipper, expecting them to step up. He’ll look at younger players as well.
“We have Aliyah Rasheed, who is a freshman. We’ve got Helen Clothier, actually Abby’s sister who is coming in as a freshman. I’m expecting a bit more out of my sophomore players,” Raper said. “Maddie Polanskyj, Aeryn Curren. They’re going to have to come in and step up and play. They didn’t play much last year.”
He also expects to use a heavy amount of substitutions and player movement.
“So, we have to put more rotations in,” Raper said. “But for us, it’s always going to be a depth issue. If we’re healthy and can keep our best 11 on the field we can compete. If we get one or two out it’s going to be a long season.”
Raper said that regardless of rotation, or players stepping up, ultimately it comes down to one thing.
“Again, I think it’s what we do as a team, not what we do individually,” he said.
The way Raper looks at it, soccer is a sport where one player cannot carry a team. In basketball, he said, having two good players surrounded by some role players can win games, and a lot of them at that.
However, soccer is more like football, where the entire team needs to function well for it to win.
“You can’t have two great players and nine role players. It’s too many,” he said.
While Raper was very happy with the results last year, he knows this year will be a far tougher challenge. The Cougars have moved up a division joining the top American division with teams like West Orange, Glen Ridge and state champion Montclair High School.
“You know, with all respect to the teams last year, you’re going to Belleville and Cedar Grove. You don’t have to have your best effort, necessarily,” he said. “This year, you’re going to Millburn, Montclair and Livingston, West Orange. Every game is a grind. You can’t recover the way we did last year. So we’re going to need everybody.”
So far, the Cougars have had just that, and the result is two division wins to start the season.