by Andrew Garda

The best cure for a tough loss is a solid win, and that’s just what Montclair Kimberley Academy’s field hockey team got with its 2-1 win over the Governor Livingston Highlanders on Monday.

On Saturday, Oct. 14, the 5-seeded Cougars ran into the buzz saw that is 1-seed West Essex during the semifinal round of the Essex County Tournament. The 7-0 loss was a tough one for MKA, but coach Gian Nappi said it was something that will benefit the team from a long-term perspective.

“I think playing against a team like that is also a mental game and that comes with maturity and growing together as a team,” Nappi said Monday after the team’s win over the Highlanders.

Nappi said that even though they had expected the outcome to be different, the players were proud.

“The girls did a great job. After the game they were so proud of themselves, for trying different things — we played in a different structure and they listened very well.”

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Still, getting back on track with a win on Monday was important.

“I think, coming off of Saturday we needed a win today to bring us into this week,” Nappi said. “Because it’s going to be a tough week.”

Nappi isn’t kidding or using hyperbole either.

After the Highlanders, the Cougars have three games in rapid succession. On Wednesday, they faced Pennington School in the Quarterfinals of the Prep Tournament. Today they head to Union to take on the Farmers. They wrap their week up with another road game on Saturday against Summit High School.

The win over Governor Livingston was a good start.

The Cougars struck first, as freshman Lindsey Yu got the ball past the Highlander goaltender less than two minutes into the first half. MKA kept the pressure on GL, but couldn’t find the back of the cage again in the period, as the Highlanders did a nice job disrupting their passes.

Meanwhile, the Highlanders managed to tie the score at one apiece, scoring a goal with 10:55 left in the half.

As the Cougars entered the second half, they appeared to be more focused and did a great job moving the ball from player to player.

“That’s what we’ve been working on,” Nappi said. “Using each other more and knowing when to hold on to [the ball] and when to get rid of it. We’ve been practicing [that] a lot, so today was a good game for them to show that off. And against a good team too.”

That practice paid off with what would be the game-winning goal by sophomore Cristina Cusmai, her first career score.

On the play, the ball had been stuck in MKA’s end when the Cougars finally were able to clear it down the field, where it landed on Cusmai’s stick. With deft stick-handling, she moved into the box and then fired the ball past the Highlander goalie.

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The goal gave the Cougars the lead, but it didn’t make them comfortable. The Highlanders redoubled their efforts, flying down the field to try to tie the game. The action culminated in a mad scrum in front of the Cougars goal, with junior Gigi Jacobson scrambling to make save after save while MKA tried to clear the ball.

They couldn’t manage it, though and worse — the chaos resulted in a penalty shot.

Luckily for MKA, Jacobson once again came up big in net, deflecting the shot away from the goal.

“She is awesome,” Nappi said of Jacobson. “The coaches look at each other every game and we’re like ‘Thank God for Gigi.’ We say it every single game because of instances like that [penalty shot]. A team gets an opportunity to score when they shouldn’t have and she’s covering our butts. She stepped up under pressure, which is awesome. No matter the game, she’s just there to play. She doesn’t have an off day. She really is doing amazing, so we’re proud of her.”

Jacobson is just one more part of the bright future the Cougars have.

“We have a lot of sophomores that play for us right now, which is awesome,” Nappi said. “We’re still going to be fairly young next year and being able to experience games like they have in overtime and playing against West Essex in the semifinal ... being able to even do that this year, for them, is a huge accomplishment. And it’s only going to benefit them next year.”