by Andrew Garda

Montclair Kimberley Academy’s boys basketball team’s season ended last Thursday night, as they fell to St. Mary of Elizabeth, 98-46, in the NJSIAA Non Public B North Tournament’s quarterfinal round.

Things got off to the wrong foot pretty quickly for the 11th-seeded Cougars, who fell behind 29-6 by the end of the first quarter. As usual, the offensive weight was carried by senior Carter McNeal and sophomore Luke Kolaja, both of whom had 14 points, as well as junior Myles Farmer who ended up with 9.

Those three all averaged double-figure points for the entire season, led by Kolaja’s 13.2 points per game.

On the whole, this has been a very good season for the Cougars, who ended the year with a 17-10 record, including a 12-2 mark (good for second place) in the Super Essex Conference-Independence Division. The Cougars managed an eight-game winning streak from mid-January to early February, and reached the Prep B semifinals.

When talking to head coach Tony Jones during the past two weeks, one thing consistently stands out and that’s how much he values his senior class. And not just the starters, but the bench.

That’s why, during the recent senior night game against Livingston on Feb. 23, Jones started things off with an unusual lineup. Sasha Aronson, Robert Hollander, Max Booker, Brendan Powell and Michael Butler were the starting lineup, all guys who normally don’t see the floor at all, much less end up there for tip-off.

Jones has said many times that those are the guys who can make a huge difference in the season. A guy like Hollander may not be on the floor a ton during the game but they show up to every practice, they work hard and more importantly, they make the starters work hard.

Without that, Jones has said, you don’t get better as a team.

The Cougars also had the opportunity, both before the NJSIAA Tournament and during it, to get some of their younger players experience.

“The intensity is just multiplied,” Jones said after the game against Montclair High on February 21. “So any time we can have an opportunity to give the younger guys an experience like that really helps us in the long run.”

With the season now over, that long run is a little closer to taking place. Jones now has to look towards the future, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a little tough to let the upperclassmen — starters and bench players alike — head on.

“I’m going to miss them a lot,” he said after the Livingston game. “They’re a great group of kids.”