The Montclair Kimberley boys soccer team was looking to end an 11-year drought for a state championship.
But for the Cougars to do it they would have to end a three-match losing streak at Gill St. Bernard’s. MKA had won at Gill St. Bernards for the 2021 Prep B title but had fallen short each time in their 45-minute trip out northwest in Peapack-Gladstone.
The hopes were high for the second-seeded Cougars this time around to take down top-seeded Knights. MKA had defeated Gill St. Bernard’s in 2012 to win a state championship and had lost a close 2-1 verdict at Gill St. Bernard’s on Oct. 20 in the Prep Tournament quarterfinals.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, the Knights dropped two goals in the first half and could not come back as they lost the 2023 Non-Public B North championship, 4-1, on Nov. 7.
“They are very good,” said Montclair Kimberley head coach Robert Leather about Gill St. Bernard’s. “They have good players going forward. They are very technical, and I thought they created better chances.”
Despite the defeat the Cougars boys soccer team can look back at the last season as not only reaching the Non-Public North B final, but also the Essex County Tournament semifinals, while finishing with a 12-7-2 record with a tough schedule.
In addition, most of the MKA minutes on the field will be back for 2024 so expectations will be high next season. “We will come back with pretty much the same team,” said Leather.
Part of the returning players will be both goalkeepers, junior Alex Provost and sophomore Jan Hejna, who might be the best goalie duo in the county.
In the state title game, Provost got the assignment, made 10 saves and kept MKA in the game. “The game would have gotten ugly except for Alex,” said Leather.
Montclair Kimberley sophomore Nick Carrascosa scored the lone goal for the Cougars in the state title match, which came in the second half to cut the Gill St. Bernard’s lead to 3-1.
“We played a little scared which is unusual because the confidence coming into the game was sky high,” said Leather.
The evidence for Montclair Kimberley’s confidence came after winning five straight games including the 6-0 victory over Timothy Christian at home on Nov. 3 in the Non-Public North B semifinals and the Cougars were the healthiest that they had been this season.
In addition, the MKA head coach was optimistic after the first match at Gill St. Bernard’s in the Prep Tournament. “I actually thought we should have won the first game,” said Leather.
In the Prep Tournament match, Carrascosa helped the Cougars strike first with a goal in the 28th minute. But the Knights would score just before the end of the first half and 10 minutes into the second half.
But the hopes were hit hard in the state final when Gill St. Bernard’s Daniel Spataro put a shot by Cougars goalkeeper Alex Provost.
Through most of the first half, the Cougars had some chances but could not get that one series of passes to get the equalizer.
And then Gill St. Bernard’s put a crimp in hopes to either have the match tied at one or Montclair Kimberley be only one game down at halftime.
The Knights would put the Cougars in a two-goal hole with about 11 minutes remaining in the first 40 minutes as Gill St. Bernard’s Dan Vasquez fired a shot by Provost to give the Knights a 2-0 lead.
“We were so passive in the first half,” said Leather. “The difference in the game was their tenacity, desire, urgency, and technical ability.”
For Montclair Kimberley they came out in the second half with a purpose to slice the Gill St. Bernard’s lead in half.