Montclair field hockey can’t keep up with West Essex in county tournament final
The Montclair High School field hockey team keeps knocking, and someday it might be able to knock down the door to the top in the Essex County Tournament.
But the team ran into the buzz saw that is top-seeded West Essex and fell again, this time 8-0 in the tournament finals on Saturday, Oct. 15, at West Essex.
To get to the finals, second-seeded Montclair (10-4) defeated rival and ninth-seeded Montclair Kimberley, 3-0, at Watchung Field in the semifinals on Wednesday, Oct. 12.
Outside of Montclair’s winning two ECT championships, West Essex has won every other title since the tournament started in 2004 except in 2020, when it was canceled because of COVID. The Mounties’ last county title came in 2010.
Montclair coach Mary Pat Mercuro knows what she sees in West Essex.
"West Essex is such a dynamic program," Mercuro said. "There's not a better team in New Jersey."
In this year's finals, West Essex outshot Montclair 41-1, and Mounties goalie Isabel Ginns was peppered for most of the game and made 21 saves. "She faced so many hard shots," Mercuro said. "She played a great game."
The coach said that many of the West Essex goals came off deflections.
For the Mounties it was a repeat of an 8-0 loss to West Essex on Sept. 15 in Montclair.
But Mercuro believes that her squad has improved since then.
"We're definitely a different team," she said. "We had great movement."
The coach pointed to chunks of minutes throughout the finals match where the Mounties’ defense was able to contain the Knights’ offense.
With the county tournament behind them, Montclair is looking forward to the state tournament. It is expected to get one of the top seeds in North Group 4, with the other top seeds expected to be Ridge, Princeton and Hillsborough. Last season Montclair was the fourth seed and was upset by Phillipsburg in the North Group 4 semifinals. Phillipsburg went on to win the section.
In the ECT semifinals, the Mounties put steady pressure on the third-seeded Cougars from the opening whistle and finished off numerous chances.
Montclair Kimberley (9-5) had some opportunities but could not score on the few close-in chances that the Montclair defense allowed the Cougars.
The score was 2-0 after the Mounties scored a couple of minutes into the second half. Montclair added the final goal in the remaining 10 seconds of the match.
Montclair senior Meghan Crane scored twice, while sophomore Eliza Larson had the third goal. It was Larson's score with a little more than eight minutes off the first-quarter clock that turned out to be the game-winner.
For that goal, Larson was at the position she was supposed to be to shoot it by Montclair Kimberley keeper Maia Cesareo.
"We tried to stay low, and we call it breathing at the post," she said about staying in her position. "We made sure our feet were planted firmly."
Crane and Larson and their teammates kept up the pressure on Cesareo. The MKA sophomore keeper made 13 saves, and there were 22 shots on goal. Montclair also had 13 penalty corners.
With her two goals against the Cougars, Crane, who will be playing lacrosse at Gettysburg College next school year, has 11 goals on the season. She had only seven goals in 2021, when she did not start. Larson, in her first varsity season, also has 11 goals.
Coming into the MKA contest, the Mounties had won seven of their last eight games, with the sole loss to Kent Place, 2-1, on Sept. 28. The Cougars were equally hot, also winning seven of their last eight, the loss being 3-2 to Summit on Sept. 29.
Despite having the better of the chances in the first half, Montclair was up only 1-0 at halftime as Cesareo and the MKA defense were able to withstand the Mounties’ shots.
But Montclair was able to score its second goal with a little more than three minutes off the third-quarter clock. Crane put a shot in the back of the net off a rebound.
The Cougars, behind Natalie Yu, Lucy Osterberg and Julia Flocco, did start to get some movement on offense, but did not get key shots like the Mounties.
Crane added her second goal of the contest with 10 seconds left in the match for the 3-0 final tally.