The Montclair Kimberley boys lacrosse team had a tough challenge this spring, facing a difficult schedule after graduating most of its offense from the 2021 season.

The Cougars faced 13 teams that ended up with .500 or better records, including two squads that won group titles, Rutgers Prep and Scotch Plains-Fanwood, and both teams that made the Essex County final, Seton Hall Prep and West Essex.

 "The team did a great job of staying together during a rough stretch of games versus strong opponents," said Montclair Kimberley head coach David Giarrusso, whose team finished with a 5-14 record. "The senior class was great at leading the younger players."

The tough schedule helped the Cougars go on a run to the Non Public B state title game, which they lost to Rutgers Prep, 11-4, on June 1.  The Cougars also made the finals in 2020, losing to Pingry in the championship game.

And that is where the MKA program wants to be every year.

"Playing in June is always one of our goals, we understand that we want to use the season as a process and rely on our system and use practices to improve individually and as a team," Giarrusso said. "Playing in the finals gives us another chance to be in pressure situations and try and play our best when it counts."

In terms of individual honors, senior Jake Pryor and junior Jordan Fishback made the All New Jersey Interscholastic Lacrosse League Waterman Division second team. Sophomores Sam Rotella and Jack MacEvoy were pegged for the All NJILL Waterman Division honorable mention list.

Junior Evan Grossman, left, was the Cougars’ leading goal scorer this past spring as MKA reached the Non Public B title game, where it fell to Rutgers Prep. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Junior Evan Grossman, left, was the Cougars’ leading goal scorer this past spring as MKA reached the Non Public B title game, where it fell to Rutgers Prep. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

In addition, Pryor and Fishback collected All Super Essex Conference American Division second-team nods.

Pryor was one of the top goalies in the Waterman Division and had 241 saves on the season while being a stalwart in the nets. He won the school's Coach Klank Award, which goes to the player "that crosses the line each day for his teammates and team," Giarrusso said.

"Jake thrives under pressure, he was a quarterback, lead in the musical, member of the a cappella group and four-year starter in goal for us," the coach said. 

"He is also the first one to remind the kids we should be having fun and enjoy being a part of the team. He has a great balance of fun and serious. His outlets were a big part of why we were able to play a fast-paced transition game this year." 

Fishback was the Cougars’ top defender and was given the Teammate Award voted by the players.

"Jordan is a phenomenal athlete who is learning the game of lacrosse from the defensive side,” Giarrusso said. “He was incredible with his scout preparation and has great body positioning. His speed and stick skills make him a great weapon in our transition game.”

Along with Fishback, Giarrusso will have some talented sophomores returning in  MacEvoy and Rotella, along with the Cougars’ top goal scorer, junior Evan Grossman, who registered 29.

Besides Pryor, another top player Giarrusso will have to replace is senior Liam Hall, who led MKA in points with 41.

The MKA coach thought his team was at its best in the state playoffs, with a 16-13 win over Immaculata on May 25 in the quarterfinals and 12-10 victory over Princeton on May 28 in the semifinals, sending the Cougars to the finals against Rutgers Prep.

"We had a great stretch of games versus similar-sized schools in the playoffs," he said. "The kids stayed within the system and improved each practice and each game."

In the regular season, Montclair Kimberley almost pulled off its best win against Caldwell, which would go on to reach the Group 1 state finals.

The Cougars lost, though, 12-11 in overtime on April 25 at Caldwell. MKA rallied with six goals in the fourth quarter to send the game into the extra session. Hall led the scoring with two goals and four assists.

For the seniors the loss to Rutgers Prep was their final contest. Along with Pryor and Hall, the other seniors were Jasper Spitz, Brodie Snyder, Connor Murphy, Dylan Sachs and Ryan Abfier.

So far in the off-season, Montclair Kimberley is on the right track. Incoming junior Nick Snyder (not related to Brodie Snyder) was named the Garden State Cup Most Valuable Player of the tournament as he helped lead the East team to the title with three goals in the final, a 6-5 overtime victory over the South on July 21 at Rutgers.