Montclair High School boys lacrosse 2023 spring: ready to build on a learning year
The Montclair boys lacrosse team was competitive in what was projected to be a rebuilding season in 2022.
The Mounties finished with an 8-11 record and reached the Essex County Tournament semifinals. They were knocked out in the first round of the North Group 4 state playoffs, 11-8, by a Bridgewater-Raritan team that would make it to the Tournament of Champions semifinals.
Head coach John Diehl’s team had several sophomores who saw field time, and now many of those sophomores have returned as juniors this spring.
"Our main goal is to continue to build off of our positives from last year," Diehl said. "Last year we struggled with our youth, as there were primarily sophomores on the field for the majority of the games.
“Last year was certainly a bit of a rebuilding year. We learned a lot against some great competition, and our players are all now one year older, with a ton of experience and a new perspective coming into this year."
The coach believes that with several players returning, the Mounties can go up against any of the teams, including Seton Hall Prep, in the Essex County Tournament.
"I believe our team can play with any team in the county when we are playing at our best," he said. "We have many weapons this year and are balanced in all areas of the game."
The biggest losses to graduation were defenseman Konrad Miklaszewski and goalie Charlie Schmitt, who were named to the All Fitch-Pitt first team and honorable mention lists, respectively, along with the Mounties’ top scorer, Solomon Brennan. Miklaszewski was also named New Jersey Defender of the Year in 2022.
But Diehl has plenty of returning players who saw significant time on the field.
While Montclair lost Miklaszewski in the back, it has four defenders who saw significant playing time last year: juniors Gabe Epstein, T.R. Branski, Liam Tracy and Gavin Burr.
The Mounties have seven midfielders who also saw extensive minutes in 2022, five sophomores who are now juniors, Simon Miklaszewski (the brother of Konrad), Caden Evans, Drew Pfeifer, Manny Robinson and Jayden Truesdale, along with senior midfielders Ryan Murphy and captain Ian Muchineuta.
One of the key additions to the midfield is junior Sam Rotella, one of the top MKA ice hockey players, who faces off and plays two ways.
Two of the top players in the midfield are Muchineuta and Pfeifer, who each collected All NJILL Fitch/Pitt second-team honors in 2022.
"He is extremely versatile and a relentless competitor," Diehl said about Muchineuta. "Ian faces off, plays defense and is a big threat on offense."
On the attack Montclair has one of the top Group 4 players returning this spring in senior Luca Ward, who led the Mounties in goals last year with 34.
"He is a great leader and has a motor on the field," Diehl said about Ward, who can play either attack or midfield. "He is both a scoring and feeding threat. Luca will be expected to carry the offense. He has done a fantastic job leading the program in the off-season in the weight room. Luca will have a breakout year this year."
Last season Brennan, who was a senior, led the Mounties in scoring with 57 points, and Diehl believes that junior Evan Schmitt, the brother of Charlie, will pick up the slack.
"He has had a great preseason and works well with Luca behind the net," the coach said. "He sees the field well and will hold down the left side of the goal offensively this year."
One of the big holes to fill this season is that left by the graduation of goalie Charlie Schmitt. His shoes will be filled by senior Kyle Alexander, who saw time in games last season and has done a great job during the preseason, Diehl said.
"He has done a fantastic job stepping up this year as both a ball stopper and in the clearing game," the coach said. "He has worked hard the past couple years and in the off-season for this moment."
As of last week, the Mounties were trying out several players for the face-off, including juniors Kiran Singh-Andrews, Otto Spehar, Jayden Truesdale and Rotella, along with sophomores David Lucking and Jayden Lee.
In terms of the schedule, the Mounties can gauge where they are in the early going when they host defending Essex County champs Seton Hall Prep on April 6 at home (4 p.m.).
Other highlights of the regular season include a battle between rivals MKA and Montclair on April 14 at Watchung Field (4 p.m.) and a night game on May 20 (7:15 p.m.) against Glen Ridge at Montclair State University.
Montclair will see where it stands in North Group 4 when it travels to Ridgewood on May 16 (4:30 p.m.).
Montclair Boys Lacrosse Schedule
(Games at 4 p.m. unless noted)
April 4 Caldwell
April 6 Seton Hall Prep
April 8 West Essex, 10 a.m.
April 12 at Westfield, 4:30 p.m.
April 14 MKA
April 18 Columbia
April 20 at Chatham
April 22 Ridge, 11 a.m.
April 26 Delbarton, 4:30 p.m.
May 9 Summit, 4:30 p.m.
May 11 Scotch Plains-Fanwood
May 13 St. Peter's Prep, 11 a.m.
May 16 at Ridgewood, 4:30 p.m.
May 20 Glen Ridge, 7:15 p.m. at Montclair State
May 24 at Livingston