by Andrew Garda

It’s been a long season of rebuilding, but Saturday afternoon saw the Montclair High School girls basketball team extend it a little longer with a 37-27 victory over Technology in the play-in round of the Essex County Tournament. The Mounties advance to the preliminary round now, where on Thursday, Feb. 8, they will face No. 15 seed Glen Ridge on the road.

The No. 18 seed Mounties never trailed in their win over No. 27 Technology, outscoring their opponent in three out of four quarters.

Coach Emily Hall changed up her starting five, putting Syncere Lambert, Lea Antoine, Birgitta Taylor-Lindquist, Maya Basile and Nyasia Young on the floor, with Young replacing Aalia Carlson to start the game.

“That first five was amazing,” Hall said after the game.

Taylor-Lindquist led the team in scoring while racking up a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds while Lambert added 10 points during the game.

Hall also pointed to key bench contributions from players, like Chynna Dunneman.

“Chynna just got cleared from her concussion,” Hall said. “That’s why she wasn’t in the starting lineup, but she gave us valuable minutes.”

One of the things about the win that stood out for Hall was how much more aggressive toward the ball her team was.

“Every time we would shoot and missed a shot, we were right here on the ball,” Hall said. The team also forced a lot of jump balls as well, which Hall said was another sign that the team had become more aggressive.

The Mounties were coming off a tough 72-39 Friday night loss to Newark Tech, but one that held some positive aspects. In the loss to the Terriers, Montclair outscored them in the second half, 32-22. While it wasn’t nearly enough to pull out a victory, Hall said, it clearly set a new tone.

“The end of the third, all of the fourth, is how we should have played the entire game,” Hall said. “I think that transitioned and carried over into today.”

The win-or-go-home aspect of tournament play also factored in.

“There was a little more urgency knowing if we lose this game, we aren’t going to be in counties anymore,” Hall said. “So I think that helped the girls and really helped accelerate the momentum for the day.”

The season continues to be a learning process for both the players and coaching staff. Hall has to continually balance the desire to win now with the need to focus on building the program for the future. While it’s not always easy, progress has been made and the girls are getting the message that they have to bring the same energy every day. Veteran players are stepping up to motivate their younger teammates while the younger players are starting to understand that their role will get bigger next season and that they have to work hard to improve. Meanwhile, Hall is learning how best to communicate with her players and adjusting to a greater offensive mindset, despite being a mostly defense-oriented coach.

To that end, the team has been spending an hour of practice just on offense.

“I’ve been doing a lot of transition offense, doing a lot of passing drills, a lot of jumping to the ball, all of which translated to today as well,” Hall said.

She’ll keep pushing the offense, and has to make sure her team continues to find the basket against a Glen Ridge team averaging 36 points a game. And she’ll have to do so without sacrificing defense, because when Glen Ridge fails to hit its average the team often walks away with a loss.

That means a solid defensive effort from the Mounties, combined with an improving offensive output, could help MHS advance to the next round.

“It took awhile, but we’re getting there,” Hall said. “I’m not satisfied but we’re getting there,”