The Montclair girls volleyball had a chance to do something not many teams are able to in a season.
Ousted by Ridgewood, 2-1, in the North 1 Group 4 state tournament on Oct. 26, the Mounties had a chance to finish the 2023 season on a winning note in their last game and it came at rival Montclair Kimberley.
The Cougars also wanted to leave the 2023 season on a winning note. This was their chance against Montclair.
The Mounties though took control in the first game in route to a 25-14 win. But Montclair Kimberley pushed hard in the second game to try to send the match to a third game.
Montclair would not have any of it as they slipped by the Cougars, 25-23, as the Mounties swept MKA, 2-0, on Oct. 30. Montclair finished with a 10-11 record while Montclair Kimberley ended with a mark of 8-13.
Montclair junior Isabella Kuzyk led a balanced attack with four kills while senior Trinity Mankey-Akogbeto added three kills. Mounties senior setter Camila Herrera had nine assists.
Leading the comeback for Montclair Kimberley was sophomore Ava Wheeler with seven kills while another sophomore, setter Mahala Weintraub led the Cougars with 14 assists.
For both teams it was their Senior Night and it felt good for Montclair’s seniors to go out on a winning note and beat Montclair Kimberley for the first time since 2018.
“It feels really good especially with the losses this season,” said Herrera about the Mounties losing seven of the 11 matches that went to three games. “There were some ups and downs this season. Ending like this made it much better.”
The Mounties were coming off one of those losses in three games this time to Ridgewood in the state tournament.
Another Montclair senior, Margaux de Toustain, one of the Mounties top offensive producers, said it was nice to punctuate her career on a high note.
“I’m very happy and a great way to end the season,” said Toustain about what she took from her senior year. “I think we can learn from every game we played, and I think we did.”
For Montclair head coach Pam Reilly, it was a ‘bittersweet’ night with the sendoff for the seniors. And Reilly added about Herrera contributing to her assists while at Montclair.
“The victory was bittersweet as it was our last for the senior class,” said Reilly. “Beating MKA is always special because of the rivalry, and our apparent drought in victories against them. It was also great to have our senior setter (Herrera) continue to add to her thousand plus career assists.”
The day was also the Dig Pink at Montclair Kimberley, a benefit to help fund metastatic breast cancer research and treatments through the Side-Out Foundation.
“The girls and our coaches had a really difficult time losing the first set to Montclair; it appeared like we had simply lost our concentration,” said Montclair Kimberley head coach Kyla Sebello. “Since this was our first-time hosting Dig Pink at our location, the players had a lot on their plates and the day was long.”
Despite the loss, Sebello and the Cougars future is bright where most of the time on the floor was filled with time by undergraduates. “Our team is primarily made up of freshmen and sophomores,” said the MKA head coach. “Everyone needed to learn how to play well with others, what our flaws were, and how to use our strengths. Our players were finally clicking in the second half of the season, and we were able to find our lineup.”
In the first game Montclair came out hot as they grabbed 11 of the first 13 points and breezed to the victory.
In the second game the Mounties were ahead 9-6, but Montclair Kimberley took over to win seven of the next eight points and grab a 13-10 advantage.
With both teams going back and forth, the Cougars sliced the Mounties lead to one, 22-21. But Montclair would not let MKA take the lead and finally put the Cougars away.
“There was fire in the second set, which was entirely different,” said Sebello. “Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.”