by Andrew Garda

WEST ESSEX — Despite a valiant and tireless effort against one of the top teams in New Jersey, the Montclair High School field hockey team fell to No. 1 seed West Essex on Saturday, Oct. 21, by a score of 7-1.

While the loss was disappointing for head coach Mary Pat Mercuro and her No. 3 seed Mounties, there was still a lot to build on as the team heads into the NJSIAA Tournament this weekend as a No. 3 seed faces No. 6 seed Ridge in the North 1, Group 4 brackets.

“We’ve played well against Madison, we played well against Johnson and we’re playing well [overall],” Mercuro said after the game. “And I think that’s what is important right now. We continued to improve and we scored today. That was our big thing today. We wanted to score first, but I’ll take it when I can because it tells us something. We can score against the top teams.”

When Sosi Korian found the back of the cage late in the game, off a pass from Sam Van Siclen, the Mounties were exuberant, as if a weight had been lifted from their shoulders.

They’ll need that goal to build momentum heading into the State Tournament.

They’ll also need to have solid play from their goalie, Anjali Abram.

While seven goals allowed might lead an observer of just the box score to think Abram had a poor outing on Saturday, the reality to anyone who watched the game was that Abram’s outing was anything but poor.

In fact, without Abram’s amazing play in net, the Mounties might have seen West Essex’s goals double.

Abram recorded 17 saves, many of them on whistling shots she could only just get a limb in front of to block.

The Knights are an insanely talented team, having sent multiple players to D-1 schools on scholarship last year, and are poised to do so again when this senior class graduates.

They are very good.

Captains Jen Heath and Missy Wrede pose with the Essex County Tournament second place trophy after the Mounties 7-1 loss to West Essex.
Captains Jen Heath and Missy Wrede pose with the Essex County Tournament second place trophy after the Mounties 7-1 loss to West Essex.

Abram stood in front of their shots, blocked many of those and managed to clear out more than a few second chances. This is not a new feat for Abram, who has saved 98 shots so far this season,

In part because of how well Abram played, the Mounties were hanging right with the Knights for a large chunk of the first half. Two possible Knights goals were disallowed, but MHS wasn’t rattled and kept pressure on the West Essex players.

However, the Mounties were not aggressive enough in the box on either end of the field.

Offensively, when MHS was able to get a shot and the West Essex keeper made a save, all too often there was nobody there to take a rebound and shoot again.

Defensively, when Abram made a save, far too many times there was just one Mounties defender in the area to clear the front of the net — and sometimes there were none at all.

It was that fatal flaw which allowed the Knights to score once, then twice, and then a flood of goals.

Mercuro knows that’s something the team has to fix before Saturday’s game.

“We [have to] keep drilling,” she said about the lack of aggression. “[During a game] we get one shot and it’s done, so we’re working on supporting better and we’re getting there. We’re a better team today than we were last week.”

Not only last week, Mercuro said, but better than the team West Essex beat 8-0 back in September. The Mounties played well at times, but Mercuro pointed out that if they are going to beat teams like West Essex, they have to play consistently.

“I think this was great bringing us forward and [West Essex] lost a couple of games to some good teams,” Mercuro said. “They are the type of team who— this tournament is theirs. And it’s ours to steal from them. So they know we’re going to come out and they get up for this game. I think my team played really well defensively in the circle. But we weren’t quite up for the task. They were just too quick to the ball for us and that’s something we’ll work on going forward.”