It all turned very fast for Montclair High School’s field hockey team in its 6-0 loss to West Essex in the Essex County Tournament finals on Saturday, Oct. 23.

One moment in the first quarter, the Mounties (14-4, 2-3 Essex/Union Red) had just missed a goal and were expecting to get a penalty stroke — a penalty shot awarded for an intentional foul in the penalty circle around the goal — as an official ruled the West Essex (17-2, 10-1 Essex/Union Red) goalie trapped the ball with her equipment.

Another judge overruled the call, but while normally the game is stopped and the decision explained to both coaches, this time the play immediately continued. 

The Mounties were caught flat-footed, with many of them expecting a stoppage of play and an explanation. Instead, West Essex, which is currently ranked third in the state, flew down the field and put the ball past MHS goalie Isabel Ginns.

Head coach Mary Pat Mercuro said it took her team a while to shake off the shock.

“That really sent us into a funk,” she said.

Despite the loss, Mercuro feels her team benefited from playing a top opponent.

“We learned some things,” she said. “We’ll carry that forward.”

Overall, Mercuro had plenty of praise for her team and its effort. 

“I think we really played well,” she said. “I think we did a good job.”

While the Mounties didn’t score a goal, they played very hard. Defensively, they may have allowed West Essex to score multiple times, but the defense played very well, especially in the second half.

“We changed our defense in the second half and the kids really adjusted,” Mercuro said. “I'm looking forward to the state tournament because I think we’re going to surprise some people.”

The state tournament begins today, Oct. 28, for Montclair as it welcomes South Brunswick (8-10, 6-8 GMC Red) to the newly returfed Watchung Field. Montclair snatched the No. 4 seed in the North Jersey, Group 4 tournament, while South Brunswick is the 13 seed.

Montclair senior Julia Magaldi fires a shot toward the West Essex goal on Saturday, Oct. 23. MHS couldn’t crack the code against West Essex and was shut out, 6-0.
Montclair senior Julia Magaldi fires a shot toward the West Essex goal on Saturday, Oct. 23. MHS couldn’t crack the code against West Essex and was shut out, 6-0.

Mercuro isn’t taking anything for granted, though, and knows her team can’t dwell on the ECT finals loss. She was most looking forward to Tuesday afternoon’s game against Ridge (14-4-1, 3-4-1 Skyland Raritan) as a palate cleanser and a tuneup for the state tournament.

Unfortunately, schools across the state canceled classes due to Gov. Phil Murphy’s declaring a state of emergency due to the weather. That meant the game against Ridge was canceled;  even if it is rescheduled, it wasn’t going to take place before today’s game.

One of the keys to a deep NJSIAA run will be the play of Mercuro’s senior class. With 15 senior girls, Montclair has plenty of athletes who have been around these games before and will be used to the extra pressure.  

It won’t hurt to have Ginns in net either.

Her 19 saves on the day helped keep Montclair in the game, and she made some amazing stops. While 6-0 isn’t the score they were hoping for, it was clear after the game that the team knows how valuable their junior goalie is. 

Her play was good enough to catch the eye of — and receive praise from — West Essex coach Jill Cosse. 

All in all, the outcome wasn’t great, but it’s clear that the pieces Montclair needs are there, and the team just needs to find where they fit best.

If they can figure that out on Thursday and going forward, Montclair could be poised for some great tournament play.