Montclair Kimberley Academy boys soccer takes home SEC Liberty Division crown
The Montclair Kimberley boys soccer team had to deal with injuries along with a flu bug that was running around the school at probably the toughest time, the Prep B and state tournaments.
Despite those roadblocks, the Cougars were able to reach the finals in both of those tourneys.
And while they lost both, to Gill St. Bernard’s, getting to the championship matches was a feat for the program.
"Our goals are always to win between 12 to 16 games, win a prep title and win a state title," said MKA head coach Rob Leather, whose team finished with a 12-8-1 record. "We also wanted this year to win the Liberty Division. We managed to accomplish the latter and lost in two finals to a very good Gill St. Bernard’s team."
A rash of players missed games in the Prep B and state tournaments, forcing the team's depth to step up and fill in, which got the Cougars to the tournament championships.
"We dealt with a ton of injuries and sickness towards the end of the season, and I was really happy with the way the team responded to this adversity," Leather said. "I actually think based on what we dealt with it’s one of the better seasons we have had."
Montclair Kimberley lost back-to-back 3-0 decisions at Gill St. Bernard's, in the Prep B and the Non Public North B state tournament finals on Oct. 26 and Nov. 9, respectively.
While many of the starters were back for the Non Public North B final, some were still not 100 percent. Gill St. Bernard's would go on to win the overall Non Public B title.
In the race for the SEC Liberty title, the Cougars clinched it with a 0-0 tie at home against Newark Academy on Oct. 17, as MKA finished a half-game ahead of the Minutemen.
"It showed a lot of character," Leather said about the tie. "However, we won five games in that division, and they were all important."
It was a 2-0 victory over Newark Academy in the Prep B Tournament semifinals that Leather felt was his team's best-played match.
"It was our most complete performance," he said about the match on the road Oct. 20, just three days after the regular-season tie. "From the goalkeeper to the quality of the goals, this was a game where I felt we really showed our potential."
Three players, senior Omar Martinez and sophomores Joey Nigro and Lucas Furlonge, were part of the All SEC Liberty Division first team.
Martinez collected 11 goals despite a late-season injury, and the coach believes he was the best player he has had.
"Before Omar's injury he was absolutely flying," Leather said. "He had the best spell of games of any player I have coached at MKA. He scored big goals, was a constant threat and led the team wonderfully. His finishing and explosiveness made him one of the best players in the county."
Nigro scored nine goals to make for a nice one-two duo with Martinez. "Joey is just a really creative player with great technique and vision," Leather said. "He also showed his quality in front of goal this season. He had a great season, and I loved watching him and Omar connect up top."
In the back, Furlonge was the force who led the Cougars’ defense. "Lucas is an unbelievable athlete," the coach said. "I can match him up against the opposition's most
dominant player and know he will come out on top. His ceiling as a player is very high. He is also really flexible and adaptable as a player and has excellent delivery on his crosses."
Montclair Kimberley next year will have to fill the slots held by Martinez, Julian Coviello and Dylan Okai. Coviello and Okai were pegged for the All SEC Liberty second team and the honorable mention list, respectively.
Joining Nigro and Furlonge back for 2023 will be junior Alex Provost and sophomore Michael Rallatos, who were placed on the All SEC second team and the honorable mention list, respectively.