Montclair Kimberley girls soccer ’22: Young squad goes through a few growing pains
The Montclair Kimberley girls soccer team showed a lot of potential this past fall but seemed snakebit in several games.
Six of the Cougars’ 10 defeats were by two or fewer goals.
Overall, MKA head coach Jordan Raper liked the desire of his team, which finished with a 6-10-1 mark, but those close contests added a bitter taste to 2022.
"I was happy with the progression of our younger players," Raper said. "I was happy with the style that we played with and the creativity we showed on and off of the ball. I was not happy losing the close games, and I feel we could have shown better in the bigger games."
With a young, inexperienced squad in 2022, the Cougars did make it all the way to the Prep B state finals but were overmatched there by a Rutgers Prep team that included Team USA and Division I-bound players, 10-2.
Raper said the experience that his young team gained through matches against some of the best teams in Essex County as well as against Rutgers Prep will help in 2023.
"Our youth is the most exciting aspect," he said. "The team is younger than we have had the last few years and has better numbers and greater depth."
MKA's season ended with a 7-0 defeat to Immaculate Heart Academy in the Non Public North A section quarterfinals. Immaculate Heart would go on to win the Non Public A title.
Raper said the best-played games came in a span of two weeks and three of four games. The Cougars won at Gill St. Bernard's, 4-1, and at Mount St. Dominic, 1-0, on Oct. 7 and 12, in the Prep B Tournament and Essex County Tournament, respectively. After falling to Montclair, 6-1, in the county tournament, Montclair Kimberley won another road game, this time at Newark Academy, 2-1, in the Prep B Tournament on Oct. 20.
"Our tournament games at Gill, Mount St. Dominic and Newark Academy were our best games of the season," the coach said. "We played tight defense and moved the ball well and with purpose. We rose to the occasion on the road and showed good maturity in handling the occasion."
The team played for most of the season without its top player, senior Bella Douglas, who was injured about halfway through the fall.
Despite that, Douglas had seven goals and was named to the All Super Essex Conference American Division first team, the top division in the county.
"Bella is one of the best players to play in the SEC over the last decade," Raper said. "She is tough, hardworking, tenacious and tremendously skilled. Her injury left a huge hole in the team, one that we were not able to fill. She is going to play at Boston College in the fall of 2023, and I am sure she will be great there."
Along with Douglas, senior Sofia Vinasco was also part of the All SEC American Division first team. Vinasco chipped in five goals and four assists.
"Sofia is a technically gifted player," the coach said about Vinasco, who will play at Coastal Carolina University. "She can play anywhere in the attacking part of the team and brings something special wherever she lines up. Hardworking, tough and always team-first, Sofia led so well when Bella got hurt, carrying the responsibility for both of them on the field."
Another player who will need to be replaced in the starting 11 is senior Brooke Huntington, who made the All SEC American honorable mention list.
"Brooke is a model of consistency," Raper said. "Hardworking and very technical, she is the lynchpin of our midfield."
The top player returning will be sophomore Gisella Armstong, who collected an All SEC American Division second-team nod. "Gisella is a warrior, plain and simple," the coach said. "She always plays hard, takes the other team’s best attacker and attempts to shut them down. She is not afraid of anyone or any situation.
“In addition, Gisella is good on the ball and leads from the front. She is vocal when needed and organizes very well from her position. I cannot wait to see what she can do junior year.”
The other top player returning will be sophomore Alia Rasheed, who also was placed on the All SEC American Division honorable mention list.
"Alia is an outstanding athlete who covers a lot of the field," Raper said. "She is in every play on attack and defense and never lets the team down."