by Andrew Garda

It’s  been a long season for the Montclair High School boys lacrosse team. A new coaching staff, a new system, and a lot of struggling have made wins hard to come by.

However, a 11-8 victory over Columbia High School to win the coveted Gil Gibbs Cup is one victory they can build on.

It may not be the Essex County or NJSIAA Championship, but for the Mounties and head coach John Scanlan, it’s a pretty big deal. Scanlan’s uncle played for Gibbs at Montclair and his grandfather spoke in support of Gibbs’ Hall of Fame bid.

Add to that the general legend that is Gibbs when it comes to Montclair lacrosse — including 11 state titles on the way to becoming the first nationally recognized public high school lacrosse powerhouse that was not in either Maryland or Long Island. Scanlan has tried to teach his players the history of Montclair lacrosse while also getting them ready for each game, so he made sure they knew how important it was.

On top of all that, facing rival Columbia always brings a certain level of excitement.

“This is like the Super Bowl,” Scanlan said after the team hoisted the Gibbs Cup. “There’s nothing like Montclair versus Columbia. If you’re a Mountie, this is the game you’ve got to get up for. Doesn’t matter what the records are, it’s too much history and tradition between these two teams. We’re like brothers. We were born at the same time, we grew up together. We had some success together in the ’70s and ’80s. So this is like family.”

We all know how family can get.

MHS was coming into the game on the heels of a 9-8 win against West Essex the preceding Monday. That win had avenged a close loss to the Knights during the Essex County Tournament less than a week before.

Then came Senior Night and the Gibbs Cup.

Scanlan started a lineup of seniors, including Wiley Cates in goal. Cates injured his hand during the preseason and though he saw the field once, had not started a game for the Mounties since his injury.

He found out only the day before that he would be starting, but the senior goaltender didn’t look like he had much rust to deal with. Cates made great save after great save for the Mounties, especially down the stretch.

That’s not to say this was a cakewalk for the Mounties.

By the end of the first quarter, the Mounties were down 3-1. Goals by Wil Shiffenhaus and John Painter tied the game up at three goals apiece, and then MHS jumped out to a 6-3 lead by halftime with another Shiffenhaus score as well as ones from Matt Comini and Finn Jensen.

The Cougars came out strong in the third quarter, pulling to within one goal at 6-5, but that was as close as they could get.

Scores by Dynal Vespole, Christian Sanchez, Harrison Blanz, another by Comini gave the Mounties a 10-6 lead and firm control heading into the fourth quarter.

Painter would score one more time to make it 11 goals, and while Columbia scored twice more, the game was never again in doubt.

The win streak ended during their next game against Bergen Catholic — a 14-5 loss — but Scanlan and his staff are happy to see their team show signs of jelling.

Just in time, too, as after press time the Mounties were scheduled to play 4-seed Westfield on Wednesday May 17 on the road as a 13-seed underdog in the NJSIAA State Tournament.