The Montclair Ultimate Frisbee team posing after advancing to New Jersey’s championship game. (HANK GREENBERG/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)

The Montclair Geese, who are ranked as the best high school Ultimate Frisbee team in New Jersey, earned a commanding 7-3 lead going into halftime of their state semifinal matchup against fourth-seeded West Windsor Plainsboro on Sunday, May 28. But West Windsor Plainsboro would not go down easily.

Almost immediately after the second half started, West Windsor Plainsboro had a golden opportunity to cut the lead down to two. Montclair saw its bid to qualify for New Jersey’s championship game slipping away. Instead of giving in, the Geese stepped up their intensity.

When West Windsor Plainsboro threw the disc out of bounds, Montclair made the most of its possession. The Geese confidently marched the Frisbee down the field. Sophomore Sam McCrory connected with junior Andrew Zichelli to reassert Montclair’s control of the game.

From that point, Montclair never looked back. West Windsor Plainsboro scored only once more, and Montclair won the semifinal, 13-5.

Senior captain Elliot Albright commented on the team’s tenacity.

“It was incredible how focused and intense we were,” Albright said. “I think we did a great job. The energy that’s needed comes from the sideline. If you have an extra loud sideline, we call them the eighth man. They give calls. It’s their energy that propels the players on the field forward. We had a very active sideline and that was a huge part of getting started.”

The semifinal was Montclair’s fifth game of the weekend. Montclair won all five of its games at the New Jersey State Championships, held at Tamaques Park in Westfield on May 27 and 28.

Montclair has now qualified for the championship game against second-seeded Columbia High School on June 2 at 7 p.m. The championship game will take place at Underhill Field in Maplewood.

The Montclair Geese have never reached these heights before. The team started playing competitively five years ago.

Senior Dylan Pearson, another captain for the Geese, reflected on the long journey to get to this point.

“It seriously means a lot to so many of us, especially the older ones,” Pearson said. “We joined this program when it was a team that was placing second to last in the state. We were really down there. We’ve just grown so far. It’s really, really, really awesome to see how far everything has gone.”

Albright echoed these sentiments.

“This game is so important – it’s incredible,” Albright said. “Our team’s goal is to win the State. In my freshman year, I already knew the legacy of Westfield and Columbia. It’s something that I never dreamed of: That our kind of scrappy little team at the time would be able to do it. It’s just incredible that we’ve gotten to the level that we can compete with them. We all really want to win.”

In contrast, Columbia is used to being in the championship game. The two titans of New Jersey Ultimate Frisbee, Columbia and Westfield, have won every championship since 2000. Columbia’s last championship was in 2021.

Montclair is undaunted by history. They’ve already played Columbia twice this season. Montclair lost in April, but got revenge at the Pioneer Valley Invitational. The championship game will be the rubber match between Montclair and Columbia.

Pearson explained how the Geese will prepare for their final match against Columbia.

“We’ve already played twice this season,” Pearson said. “We know these guys and that definitely plays a big factor in our game plan for Friday. Besides that, we’re going to be having something to do every day this week, just to prepare. It’s not all going to be physical. It might be some film reviews, some tossing tomorrow. There’s going to be just a lot of time together and a lot of preparation, so that we’re ready for Friday. On Friday, we’re just going to give it our all and have fun out there. Hopefully, some great results can follow.”

Montclair’s unexpected run to the championship game was powered by sophomore Coaba Nichim-Luta, McCrory and senior Eli Fellus. Nichim-Luta scored nine goals, completed three assists, and forced eight turnovers.

McCrory led the team with seven assists and forced six turnovers on defense. Fellus excelled on offense with 10 goals and two assists over the weekend.

Senior Griffin Van Rhyn, a captain and the top performer from the Pioneer Valley Invitational, did not play this weekend because of an ankle injury. The Geese had adjusted how they played their best throwers to make up for Van Rhyn’s absence.

Pearson gave some insight into how Montclair’s strategy shifted.

“Griffin is definitely a very central part of our offense,” Pearson said. “We definitely had to make some changes. We moved some of our other stronger throwers around because Griffin is a big part of our passing game. We just had to convert some players to different roles.”

Van Rhyn expects to play in Friday’s championship game.

In the semifinal game, Nichim-Luta had his best performance. He was on the field for 16 of the 18 points in the game. On offense, he threw three assists and caught two goals. On defense, he played as “deep deep,” which is the defender closest to the endzone.

West Windsor Plainsboro is known for its deep throws, so Nichim-Luta’s consistent deflections and his ability to box out totally disrupted West Windsor Plainsboro’s offense.

“That’s what I do,” Nichim-Luta said. “I’m tall and I can jump. I was preparing to play in a lot of points and to play intensely against their offense, but that’s mainly due to how their offense works.”

Montclair knows it will take many exceptional efforts to beat Columbia on Friday. The entire team will have to play at their best in order to take home the crown.

Nevertheless, they are determined to become the third team this century to become New Jersey State Champions.

— Hank Greenberg/Montclair Local