Montclair boys lacrosse preview: Returning players key to runs for titles
By EDWARD KENSIK
It’s time for unfinished business.
That is the case for the Montclair High School boys lacrosse team, which last year fell a win short of an Essex County Tournament title and two wins removed from a state championship.
Mounties head coach Mike Diehl believes his team can reach another county final as well as win a state title.
But he is not peering that far down the road after the team went 12-6 last season.
“We do not look ahead,” Diehl said. “It is a day-to-day process. If we take care of what is in front of us each day, the future will take care of itself. If we follow this approach we will make a run for both finals.”
The coach hopes that the team hits its stride by late May, when the ECT final takes place, and maintains it into June with the state tournament.
And even more so because Montclair starts the 2022 season with only four seniors, along with seven juniors and a dozen sophomores, on the roster. “We are still assessing who will become starters and will be for the next couple of weeks,” Diehl said after two preseason matches. “Our newcomers are currently developing and improving upon their consistency. There are always growing pains in the beginning.”
The Mounties have to replace some important players from last year who graduated, including Jared Topf, William Labartino, Jonas Taylor-Liliquist and Matt Skibniewski, all of whom were All-New Jersey Interscholastic Lacrosse League Fitch-Pitt Division honorees. Topf will especially be missed, as he was one of the top face-off experts in the league and county and was named to the Fitch-Pitt first team in 2021.
But the cupboard is not empty for Diehl, especially with the return of senior Konrad Miklaszewski, who plays on defense but can also play long-stick midfielder. Miklaszewski was an All-NJILL first-team selection and Fitch-Pitt second-teamer last season.
“He is a highly talented, versatile player,” the coach said about Miklaszewski, who will be playing at Yale University next season. “He is a machine on ground balls and on the wings during face-offs and is a nightmare to go against offensively.”
Miklaszewski will be needed to mold a young defense.
The Mounties also have a quality goalie back in senior Charlie Schmitt, who will help the young defenders.
“Charlie Schmitt both leads by example and is a vocal leader,” Diehl said. “He has the experience of last year playing a very challenging schedule and knows what it takes to be successful on the defensive end as a unit. His challenge will be catching up the newcomers to the defense.”
Despite the graduation of Labartino and Topf on the offensive end, the Mounties have senior Solomon Brennan and junior Luca Ward, who contributed offensively last season and are expected to step up their games in 2022.
Brennan collected 28 goals and 15 assists last season. “He is a versatile, well-rounded player at the attack position who has a knack for scoring goals and is a great finisher,” Diehl said about Brennan, who will play some attack and midfield. He will be playing at Oberlin College in Ohio next season. “Solomon will be a leader on the attack unit this year, as he is the sole senior in this position.”
Along with Brennan, Ward will be at the attack position and midfield after registering 24 goals and 18 assists. “He is not only a great offensive player, but excellent on ground balls and riding,” the coach said about Ward, who has committed to Holy Cross University. “Luca will work well with Brennan this year, as they both have developed chemistry from last year.”
Junior Ian Muchineuta will be tasked with building up the midfield.
Montclair belongs to both the Super Essex Conference - American Division and the NJILL Fitch-Pitt Division.
Both are among the toughest in the state. The SEC-American is the best division in the county, with the likes of Seton Hall Prep and Glen Ridge.
And then there is the Fitch-Pitt Division, which includes Seton Hall Prep again as well as Summit, Westfield and Delbarton. All of the teams in the division last season had over .500 records overall.
“We are looking to continue to earn our respect within the conference and compete with every team,” Diehl said about Fitch-Pitt. “In order to be the best, you need to play the best.”
Along with Miklaszewski, Brennan and Schmitt, the other senior on the 2022 Montclair team is Aidan Wigdor.
Diehl and the Mounties will be able to get a baseline right from the start, as they take on Seton Hall Prep in their opener today, March 31, on the road at 4 p.m.
Montclair boys lacrosse schedule
March 31 at Seton Hall Prep, 4 p.m.
April 2 at Caldwell, 11 a.m.
April 5 at Westfield, 4 p.m.
April 8 Chatham, 4 p.m.
April 14 Bernards, 4 p.m.
April 16 Manasquan, 11 a.m.
April 18 at West Essex, 4 p.m.
April 21 Ridgewood, 4 p.m.
April 23 at Delbarton, 11 a.m.
April 26 at Pope John, 4:30 p.m.
April 28 Glen Ridge, 4 p.m.
May 9 at Columbia, 4 p.m.
May 11 Summit, 4 p.m.
May 13 at Montclair Kimberley, 4:30 p.m.