Montclair High School girls basketball: Good progress, but ways to go despite division lead
Montclair High School girls basketball head coach Ed Connell is just glad to actually be playing on the hard court at this point of the season, with games already under the team’s belt.
Last year, about now, the Mounties were playing their first game, after the program was shut down for most of December and part of January.
"We have had far more continuity this year without COVID interruptions, which has allowed us to be a happier and more connected team," Connell said. "We are excited to get into the gym every day and work collectively from top to bottom. In a lot of ways, this year has felt like a reset to the happy, healthy culture we want to have in our program."
Last year it was Millburn that was the Mounties’ first opponent; they lost, 35-29.
"By the time we played our last game, we were playing our best basketball," Connell said.
Last weekend, in a doubleheader with the boys team, the Mounties lost, 54-38, to the same Millers team at Montclair High School. The boys lost 64-46 to Columbia in the second half of the doubleheader, tabbed the “Tip-off for Toni's Kitchen” benefit.
Despite the defeat, Connell said that his team has come a long way this year.
"We feel good about the season," he said. "But I think we are a long way from being satisfied. Our team has a winning record, won some close games, and has a healthy, competitive culture.
“However, we have yet to put our best game together for a full four quarters. We try to celebrate the results but focus on the process, and we are still refining that process every day.”
Connell’s team was 7-4 as of last week after the loss to Millburn. He said that his concentration is on how his team is improving.
"We just have to keep playing good basketball," he said. "We're focused on us."
Montclair has been led by its inside game with senior Elsa Taylor-Lillquist and sophomore Savannah Seawell, which Millburn took away from the Mounties for a big chunk of the game. "They were definitely throwing double teams at them," Connell said.
Against the Millers, Seawell had 17 points to lead Montclair, but Taylor-Lillquist, who is the Mounties’ scoring leader, was limited to six.
With only two seniors (Taylor-Lillquist and Rece Anton) on the team, Montclair could very well be like Millburn next season. The Millers won only five games in 2021-22 but already have 10 this season.
This year the Mounties have a good chance of making noise, especially by winning the Super Essex Conference Independence Division, where they were tied as of last week with Irvington and Newark Collegiate for first with one loss each in the division.
"With a game against Irvington and two against NCA (Newark Collegiate Academy) remaining, we are ultimately in control of our own destiny," Connell said.
"As far as chances go, nothing in high school sports is a certainty, but you have to be in the race to win it. We are definitely in the race."
Taylor-Lillquist can do several things on the floor and averages 10 points and 8 rebounds per game.
"She has posted a number of double-doubles, and has consistently been a scoring leader for us," the coach said. "Elsa poses a unique challenge for opponents in utilizing her back-to-the-basket game and ability to attack slower defenders. She is a tenacious defender as well. Her reliability is exactly what you hope for from a senior captain."
Like Taylor-Lillquist, Seawell has been a double-double threat every game. "Savannah has made leaps and bounds in terms of finishing, rebounding and overall toughness," said Connell, who pointed to her game against Irvington (a 44-31 win on Jan. 10) in which she had 14 points, 17 rebounds and 7 blocks. "At her best, she has shown glimpses of being an elite defender, dominating the glass and finishing chances."
Montclair Girls Basketball Schedule
(Games at 4 p.m. unless noted)
Jan. 19 Shabazz
Jan. 21 Essex County Tournament, TBD
Jan. 24 at Newark Collegiate
Jan. 26 Essex County Tournament, TBD
Jan. 28 Bloomfield, Noon
Jan. 31 at Science Park
Feb. 2 Barringer, 7 p.m., Senior Night
Feb. 7 at Irvington
Feb. 9 at Verona
Feb. 11 at Bergen Tech, 10 a.m.