by Andrew Garda

The season got off to a rocky start for the Montclair High School varsity boys lacrosse team, as Seton Hall Prep got an early lead and never let up on their way to a 19-2 win in windy, frigid conditions at the Pirates’ brand-new West Orange field.

The limited offseason, coupled with a canceled game against Bergen Catholic the Wednesday prior, left the Mounties rusty, which the Pirates took full advantage of throughout the game. Fresh off a close loss to Summit, Seton Hall was anxious to rebound with a win and proved themselves to be focused and ready for the game.

The Mounties, meanwhile, struggled to find their own focus and often weren’t quite in the right spot. The defense struggled to generate turnovers and get the ball into the offensive zone, and MHS had two shots in the first half.

“We’re trying to break bad habits,” Coach John Scanlan said after the loss. “That’s not on the previous coaches or the youth league. It’s about the kids. It’s really up to them.”

Mental mistakes led to turnovers, which often led to scoring chances and goals for Seton Hall.
Scanlan also felt the coaching staff — himself in particular — needs to get the players more prepared before games.

It didn’t get any better in the second half, as the offense ended up with a grand total of 12 shots on goal for the game. Two of those shots found the net — one by Conor McCarty and one by Will Shiffenhaus — but for the most part the Mounties were unable to find the goal.

The Pirates didn’t have that problem, as they consistently peppered MHS goaltender Ashton Smith. The Mountie netminder did a tremendous job overall, keeping his cool in the first half despite a deluge of shots coming his way.

Smith saw upward of 30 shots for the game, and made some great saves in all four quarters. The Pirates did an excellent job of moving the ball around, setting up clear shots on Smith.

Despite the massive shot total, the coaching staff weren’t going to pull Smith. While Scanlan checked in with goalie coach Chris Smith to make sure his goalie was OK, they never really considered replacing him.

Chris Smith and Ashton Smith are not related.

Some of that was likely the fact that their backup hadn’t played even a scrimmage in preseason. But some of it was making sure the goalie knew they believed in him. As long as he felt OK, they were sticking with him.

Considering the issues in front of Smith, an observer could only be impressed with how poised he was.

The Mountie defense often seemed tentative and allowed itself to be out-muscled for much of the game. Not having the game against Bergen Catholic certainly seemed to hurt Montclair, as the Pirates had already knocked the cobwebs off their own game and the Mounties hadn’t had that chance.

“I think there were a lot of pregame jitters which followed into the game,” defensive coordinator Drew Jenkins said. “They played with emotion and were excited to finally be on the field. So they forgot some things we had gone over in practice. Seton Hall is a great team, well coached. So they took advantage of those mistakes we made early in the game.”

The Pirates graduated just a handful of players so they aren’t likely to miss a beat as they move forward. This is a team that was excellent in 2016 — and is poised for another great season in 2017.

So the game was never going to be remotely easy for the Mounties, who are certainly rebuilding their own program.

As rough an outing as it was on Saturday, the Mounties now have the first game out of the way and with it, hopefully some of the jitters which come with it. They fared better against Mountain Lakes on Tuesday. Though they still lost 9-3, it was a more reasonable result.

“I still believe in this team,” Scanlan said. “I know they have the talent.They care and they want to win. They just aren’t quite there yet.”

They’ll see how far they are this coming Saturday as they face rival Montclair Kimberley Academy on the road.


**correction was made to adjust for Mountain Lakes score