Montclair High School student-athletes saluted as college letters of intent signed
Montclair High School pitcher Anthony Anzaldi and swimmer Elizabeth Habjan were preparing for their first seasons as high school athletes when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
The pandemic canceled all sports at Montclair High School in spring 2020. Before they could even begin, their high school athletic careers were disrupted.
During the height of COVID, a series of changing restrictions were placed on high school athletes while new rules about public gatherings and mask wearing were implemented.
Fall sports athletes, like soccer players Sonia Neighbors and Stella Tapia, did not miss a full season, but did have to adjust to completely unexpected conditions.
Along with the pandemic, these athletes dealt with injuries, copious amounts of homework and trying to maintain a social life. Yet they persevered through all the challenges put before them.
National Signing Day, which was Nov. 9, was a public opportunity for highlighting their accomplishments and for them to announce where they will continue their academic and athletic pursuits next year. The celebration was held in the multipurpose room in the Aubrey Lewis Sports Complex.
Seven student athletes signed their letters of intent at the event. Three lacrosse players signed at a separate ceremony at lunchtime.
Anzaldi, who was an All Super Essex Conference first team pitcher in baseball, will stay local and attend the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark.
Habjan, who was an All Super Essex Conference swimmer in the backstroke and relays last season, heads south to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
The Mounties rowing team had a trio of seniors who will take their paddles to college in Maxine Guerra, Bella Moreno and Alexander Stamas, heading to the University of Miami, Duke University and Northeastern University, respectively.
In Neighbors, Montclair had one of the top scorers in Essex County. She was named to the All SEC first team after collecting 22 goals this past fall and will attend the University of Miami. For Tapia it was a tough 2022 season, as she was sidelined with an ACL injury, but she helped head coach Ashley Hammond with coaching as Montclair went 15-2-1. Tapia heads west and will play in the Big Ten at the University of Michigan.
Three lacrosse players signed letters of intent in a separate Signing Day ceremony. From the girls squad, Megan Previdi, who collected an All SEC American second team nod last season, will head to Buffalo and Canisius College. On the boys side, Ian Muchineuta is staying local, on Staten Island at Wagner College, while Luca Ward drives to Worcester, Massachusetts, and the College of Holy Cross. Last season, Muchineuta was an All SEC American first teamer, and Ward collected an All-SEC honorable mention nod while also leading the Mounties in goal scoring with 34.
The seven athletes present were met with a room full of joyous supporters. Family, friends, teammates, coaches and school administrators came out to honor the stars from Montclair High School’s athletic programs.
Before the signings were the speeches. Baseball coach Ron Gavazzi praised the commitment and determination of all the athletes. He highlighted the lone baseball player, Anzaldi. "If you haven’t seen him pitch yet, come out this spring, you won’t be disappointed,” Gavazzi said.
Anzaldi smiled and used his hands to cover his face.
Habjan broke individual school marks as well as being part of a relay team that set school and Essex County records. "These last two years were packed with so much excitement,” said Montclair swimming head coach Ed Koenigsfest, whose girls teams have won the last two Essex County team titles.
Montclair High School Principal Jeffrey Freeman’s speech was short but impactful. “I hope you will continue to make us proud,” Freeman said. “Mountie pride is our legacy.”
Following the principal’s speech, the athletes officially signed their letters of intent. As they signed, each athlete personally thanked the people who helped them, including coaches, parents, friends and even doctors who were listed as people invaluable to their success.
Once the documents were signed, the athletes had a chance to take photographs with their friends and family. Neighbors and Tapia posed together as soccer team members. Guerra, Moreno and Stamas took a picture together representing the crew team.
“We went overboard,” laughed Jose Tapia, father of Stella, as the family posed for a picture. Jose and his wife, Denise, brought balloons with the University of Michigan’s logo emblazoned on them. Several students wore apparel of Michigan’s women's soccer team to show their support.
Other students made posters advertising their friends’ success. The name and college logo were drawn onto the same board; the posters were lifted and paraded about as the athletes came around the room.
National Signing Day for football and basketball will be held on Feb. 1 and April 12, 2023, respectively.
Montclair High School students signing national letters of intent
Sonia Neighbors – University of Miami
Stella Tapia – University of Michigan
Luca Ward – Holy Cross
Ian Muchineuta – Wagner College
Megan Previdi – Canisius College
Anthony Anzaldi – NJIT
Maxine Guerra – University of Miami
Bella Moreno – Duke University
Alexander Stamas — Northeastern University
Elizabeth Habjan — U.S. Naval Academy