Montclair High School girls hoops rebounds this season, shares SEC Independence title
The Montclair High School girls basketball team's season might have ended with a thump, but the full package of the season was filled with successes.
The Mounties dropped their North 1 Group 4 state opener to Columbia, 46-21.
But before that, Montclair shared the Super Essex Conference Independence Division title with Irvington.
Winning the division championship helped the Mounties finish with an overall 16-10 record after coming off a COVID-shortened 5-9 season in 2021-22.
Despite the defeat in the states, head coach Ed Connell could not have been happier over the season’s overall results.
"We reached a number of our team goals, including a winning record, winning our division and moving up in division for next year," Connell said. "Our team put huge emphasis this year on building a program and model that is sustainable moving forward, and I think we achieved that. We now have some pieces in place that can serve our larger goals moving forward."
For Connell the arrow was pointing up from the very start of the season, when Montclair went on the road and defeated North Star Academy, 35-28. North Star was considered one of the favorites in the division.
"We were able to go on the road game one and win a rock fight with an excellent program," he said.
What turned out to be the deciding game on the split for the SEC Independence championship was the team’s 44-31 win on Jan. 10 at home against Irvington.
"Again, this was a tight contest down to the end, and our focus and execution was really incredible," Connell said.
The team will be moving up to the Colonial Division next year. Within the Independence Division the Mounties went 12-2, and their key was consistency.
"We were able to replicate an excellent effort on multiple nights and were able to fight out of not having our best night on a couple occasions," the coach said. "Our team took winning the division seriously, and it showed in our effort on a nightly basis."
The two top players for the season were sophomore forward Savannah Seawell and senior forward Elsa Taylor-Lillquist, who combined to be an imposing force inside for the Mounties and were named to the All SEC Independence first team.
Seawell averaged a double-double this season, with 14 points and 13 rebounds per game.
"Savannah really began to put it all together this season," Connell said. "From day one, she has walked into our program capable of being the best player in any given game. She has touch around the rim, an ability to impose her will on defense and is a consistent rebounder."
Taylor-Lillquist averaged 12 points and 8 rebounds per game.
"Elsa improved at every facet of the game this year," Connell said. "She has always been a tough basketball player, but this year that toughness really translated onto our team.
“She had a knack for getting the huge block or bucket that helped change the dynamic of the game. She assumed a leadership role for this team from day one and did an excellent job of carrying our program on the days we were struggling."
Also garnering honors was senior guard Rece Anton and junior guard Lizzy Giordano, who collected All SEC Independence second team and honorable mention nods respectively.
Anton led the team in assists with 72 and made great progress in her senior season. "Rece is the spark plug for our program," Connell said. "She is capable of transforming any space she steps into for the better. She is a tenacious defender, and at times served as a one-man press for our team.
“She also took a huge step in playing point guard by improving her handle and decision-making on a nightly basis. She truly was a selfless player, a great teammate and an excellent leader."
Montclair loses Taylor-Lillquist and Anton but has the rest of the roster returning for the 2023-24 season.
"Looking ahead, the future is very bright for our program,” the coach said. “We graduate two seniors, who really invested in the health of our program.
“All credit to them in setting up our younger athletes for success moving forward."
With a younger group this season, Connell was able to have the players get floor time in different roles.
"Our young athletes got a ton of reps in different positions and situations, which will suit us moving forward," he said. "For most of them, this was their time playing 25-plus games, and I think we step into our off-season very aware of the things we need to improve on."