Montclair Kimberley girls basketball: a big-time turnaround
By EDWARD KENSIK
The Montclair Kimberley Academy girls basketball team did not reach all of its marks, but it made great strides this past winter.
The Cougars were trying to bring home a Super Essex Conference Independence Division title, but Newark East Side won a pair of close games against MKA that turned out to be the difference.
Still, Montclair Kimberley raised its record from 1-9 in the abbreviated 2020-21 season to 13-8 in 2021-22.
“I was happy with the season,” first-year head coach Isabella Mendez said. “Finishing with a winning record and moving up a conference for next season is a great accomplishment.”
With their second-place finish in the Independence Division, the Cougars get promoted to the SEC Colonial Division for the 2022-23 season.
“We fell short with our goal of winning the [Independence] conference but reached our goals of finishing with a winning record and beating MHS,” Mendez said.
The Cougars put it all together on Senior Night in beating Montclair, 51-21, at home on Feb. 22. “Against Montclair, we consistently stuck to the game plan throughout the game and won each quarter,” the coach said.
Senior Patricia Columbia-Walsh had a game-high 17 points for the Cougars against the Mounties. “The win, in my eyes, is the culmination of all the work our team has put in over the last couple of years, and I couldn’t be more proud,” Columbia-Walsh said after the victory.
Another senior, Ayantu Flowers, chipped in nine points against Montclair. Flowers recalled when she was a freshman at MKA: “I remember planning the Class of 2019’s Senior Day, thinking I’d have a while until mine. However, Tuesday night [Feb. 22], it hit me that I’ll be lacing up my shoes for the last time soon. I’ve evolved tremendously on the court and in the classroom these past four years; therefore, freshman year feels like a while ago.”
The other best-played contest for MKA was actually a loss, but it was to Newark Central, 53-39, in the Essex County Tournament preliminary game. Newark Central would go on to the tournament semifinals.
“We fought hard until the end with Central and stayed composed against their strong defensive presence,” Mendez said.
MKA placed two players, Columbia-Walsh and Flowers, on the All-SEC Independence first team. Columbia-Walsh averaged 14 points per game and scored in double figures in 14 of the 21 games, including 23 against Newark Collegiate in a 62-30 win on Jan. 25.
Flowers averaged 8 points per game while scoring seven times in double figures, including 15 against Orange in a 44-21 win on Feb. 16.
Junior Monica Labib and sophomore Salange Bell made the Independence second team, while junior Taylor Powell was tabbed for honorable mention. Bell averaged six points, while Labib chipped in seven points per game.
Along with Columbia-Walsh and Flowers, the Cougars had two other seniors this season in Chloe Skipper and Jess Christian. “While we will miss our seniors and their contributions, we have strong returners that will step up and fill their shoes,” Mendez said.