Montclair High School girls soccer grabs SEC American division title, season-long crown
The Montclair High School girls soccer team always has high expectations, and it shows with all the championship banners along Fortunato Field.
The Mounties fell just short twice this fall, losing in the semifinals of both the Essex County Tournament and the North 1 Group 4 state sectional tournament.
But if you think success is better told through a season, then Montclair would be considered the best team in Essex County, not West Orange, which won the county tournament.
The Mounties took home the Super Essex Conference American Division title this fall and finished with a 15-2-1 overall record. The American is the top division in the SEC, which includes West Orange. Montclair's only blemish in the division was a 3-3 tie to West Orange on Sept. 8.
As it turned out the key game was a 2-0 victory over Livingston on Sept. 21. The Lancers finished a half-game behind Montclair. In that win, the Mounties received a goal each from senior Sonia Neighbors and sophomore Ang McGloughlin.
"I tell the girls every year that winning the league is the most important thing because it shows the consistency in the greatness over a longer period of time," Mounties head coach Ashley Hammond said.
For Montclair it was the third American title in the past four seasons.
Hammond described his team's success this season. "The dominance in all our games this year was born out of possession, shots and virtually every other category as well," he said. "I loved how the team played this year. The girls were so talented and executed the game plans so well. As a soccer purist they made it fun every day to work with them."
It was sort of a rebound season for the Mounties, who were bitten by the injury bug in 2021, including to Sonia Neighbors, who led Montclair in scoring as a senior this fall. Neighbors missed most of 2021 with a broken leg.
In soccer as in all sports, teams can outplay their opponents but end up on the short end of the stick, and that was the case with the Mounties in the county and state tournaments.
The toughest pill to swallow was the 2-1 loss to Glen Ridge on Oct. 18 at Livingston High School in the county tournament semifinals. Montclair dominated almost the entire match, being on the Glen Ridge side for about 98 percent of the time, but the Ridgers scored both their goals in the few times they were in the Montclair area.
"In both of our losses we believe that we completely outplayed our opponents and just couldn't find a way to squeeze one or two in crucial moments," Hammond said, also pointing to the 1-0 defeat at West Orange in the North 1 Group 4 semifinals.
For the season the coach points to two matches where he thought his side was at its best. One was the 6-1 victory over Montclair Kimberley in the Essex County Tournament game on Oct. 14; the other the 3-2 victory over Millburn on Oct. 6 in which the Mounties came from behind to beat the Millers.
"I loved the MKA home game, as we played with great technical ability as well as real emotion as the girls recognized the nature of a local derby," Hammond said. "The Millburn game was special, as we came back from 2-0 down and showed such great heart and grit."
Three players led the way for the team this season, seniors Neighbors and Hazel Aiello and sophomore Morgane Zinn. All three collected All Super Essex Conference American Division first-team honors.
Neighbors was one of the top strikers in the county and had 22 goals and 11 assists. She heads to the University of Miami next fall.
"Sonia has been an incredible member of the team for four years," Hammond said. "We will miss her, but I told her every day that she will be banging them in at the top end of D1 next year.
“Sonia is a student of the game as well as a great technician, and she is adored by her teammates because she is so kind and just a great teammate."
Aiello was one of the top midfielders in the SEC and will be playing at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, next fall.
"Hazel was a true leader of our team," Hammond said. "Skidmore has a gem coming to them. Aside from having amazing feet, Hazel was a model captain, and everyone including the coaches looked to Hazel.
“Hazel will be missed, but she will be a star in college, as she has grown so much this year on and off the field."
Zinn was one of the breakout players in the SEC, ringing up 15 goals and seven assists. "It is hard to believe that she is a sophomore," the coach said, adding that she has a great work ethic.
"Morgane dominated in nearly every game, and the ceiling is very high for her in the soccer world … Morgane's speed will be an incredible asset for us next year as well as her skill in the game."
Three other top players will have to be replaced next season — Rece Anton, Sylvie Wurmser and Rei Chapell. Anton was second on the team in assists with 10 and garnered an All SEC American second-team nod. Wurmser and Chapell were posted on the All-SEC American honorable mention list.