BY ANDREW GARDA
Van Brunt Field — On Tuesday, Sept. 21, Montclair Kimberley Academy’s girls soccer team did something the program hadn’t done since 2016 — they beat crosstown rival Montclair High School.
The 1-0 win by the Cougars (3-1, 3-0 SEC-American) puts MKA in the early lead for the American Division and showed tremendous grit, as the team bounced back from a disappointing loss to Newark Academy on Saturday, Sept. 18, a 2-1 defeat that they and head coach Jordan Raper felt shouldn’t have happened.
“Newark Academy had a game plan, they deserved the win, but we should never have gone there and played the way we played,” Raper said.
That loss was on the Cougars’ mind as they welcome the Mounties (3-2, 1-1 SEC-American) to Van Brunt Field Tuesday afternoon.
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Montclair just had their own disappointing loss, a 1-0 decision against Mendham on Sept. 14 that was their first loss in 22 months.
MHS then bounced back resoundingly, with a 3-0 win over Roxbury on Sept. 17, and Raper knew Montclair head coach Ash Hammond would have his team ready for what is always a tough game.
MKA came out fast, pressing MHS early while also disrupting the Mounties’ passing lanes and attempts to move the ball into the middle of the field.
Meanwhile, MKA attacked on offense, and MHS goalie Molly Brumbach came up with some nice saves.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t stop what would be the game-winning goal, as Caia Carlesimo sent a beautiful header into the net off a long kick from Bella Douglas.
It was Carlesimo’s fifth goal of the year and Douglas’ third assist.
The goal was scored with 9:45 left in the first half, which left a lot of time for the Mounties to come back, but they were never able to generate a goal.
Montclair High is fast along the sideline, but is more effective at scoring from the inside, rather than from the perimeter of the field.
“[Van Brunt]’s a tighter field,” Raper said. “I said, ‘We can’t match them man for man.’ So we were going to play in a zone, going to pass players on, and we’re going to try to keep them on the perimeter. Just deny them open shots.”
It worked, as Montclair had maybe a handful of clear looks at the net and freshman goalie Lindsay Fouche. Most of the time, the Mounties were relegated to kicking the ball from outside, toward the goal, with no direct line of approach for the shot.
Raper credited another coach at the school with helping him understand the approach.
“We have an amazing basketball coach here, Tony Jones, and I’ve learned a lot watching him and how he gets his teams to defend,” Raper explained. “Just deny them open shots.”
The Cougars knew how much talent the Mounties possess on the outside, and were determined to contain it.
“We knew that their wide players were their strength,” Raper said. “We were OK with them having the ball, we knew they were going to get the ball, we wanted to deny them the opportunity to put balls in against us and deny them an opportunity to get open shots.”
It worked, as MHS’ players were continually stymied as they tried to bring the ball inside.
“Cara Flynn and Sonia Neighbors are two of the best players around,” Raper said. “And Cara’s only a freshman and a wonderful player. And so we just said, listen, just deny them space, deny them time, try to frustrate.”
In the case of Neighbors, MKA was double-teaming her effectively in the second half, though she still broke free a few times, her physical style of play hard to contain, though ultimately MKA was able to.
The defensive efforts didn’t escape the notice of MHS head coach Hammond.
“Jordan’s team played really well, no doubt about it, they were good,” he said after the game. “They set up to defend, and they defended well. They got the break and that was it.”
Hammond said Raper’s adjustments for the Mounties included a few new wrinkles compared to the games they had seen from the Cougars prior to Tuesday.
“He set up his team entirely differently for us than he’s set up for anyone else,” he said. “To his credit, he did a good job of that. I mean he really thought through how to stop us.”
Hammond said that while the losses are disappointing for the Mounties, they are undeterred.
“The girls are still very upbeat, their spirits are excellent,” he said. “They’re not down about it, so I think we’ve got a couple of weeks to put right before [the Essex County Tournament], and that’s what we’ll do.”
For Raper, the Cougars are really starting to gel, even if there are a few nagging injuries here and there.
“I feel like this team has a chemistry about it, an attitude about it, the way we set up to play today and just deny them space,” he said. “You know, I’ve got four freshmen doing a really big job out there, so I couldn’t be more proud of them all.”
As for beating Montclair High and the statement that could make to the rest of the league, Raper knows that this win is just a single win, and there is a whole season to go.
He also knows that the Mounties are a quality club and awfully dangerous.
“I know that they’ll be back, I don’t fancy seeing them again,” Raper said. “If we do, hopefully it’s in the county final. I’ll take that [game].”