Montclair Lacrosse: MKA heads to first ever Essex County Tournament final
by Andrew Garda
The Montclair Kimberley Academy girls lacrosse team trailed crosstown rival Montclair High School for most of their Essex County Tournament match on Wednesday, May 2. However, a herculean effort led by senior captain Lily Pryor's five goals, capped by her game-winner off a penalty, stole the win from the No. 3-seeded Mounties and sent the 2nd-seeded Cougars to the first ECT final in program history.
I think one of the best things today is, they were down most of the game and they never put their heads down," MKA head coach Chelsea Intrabartola said after the win. "They kept chipping away, kept working until they put the ball in the back of the net."
The Cougars will now face Glen Ridge on Saturday, May 4, 4 p.m. in West Essex.
MKA and MHS had already faced each other on April 12, and the Cougars won that game handily by a score of 11-5. Intrabartola knew this wouldn't be a repeat of that game, as the Mounties had improved greatly since their last meeting.
She knew this would be the tough game it turned out to be.
"I feel like we were expecting that game. From the start we knew it was going to be very close, back and forth like this," Intrabartola said.
The Mounties started the game red-hot, with Emily Crane scoring first, and then Nanette Walls-Tarver—who recently scored her career 100th goal—adding two more.
MKA battled back, however, with goals by Taylor Everson and Pryor.
A goal by Lauren Morganlander for the Mounties and another for Pryor and the two teams went into halftime with a score of 4-3.
When the second half started, Katie Giordano scored almost immediately, giving MHS a 5-3 lead. Six minutes later, MKA was battling back again, with Taylor Everson scoring to pull within one.
Then Walls-Tarver scored her second of the game to increase the lead back to two.
"The entire game, the whole first half and the majority of the second, Montclair had a one-to-two goal lead," Intrabartola said. "And we kept trying to chip away but they kept finding the back of the net."
Intrabartola called a time out a short time later, and while the Cougars were struggling, she could see they weren't giving up.
"You could just see it in the girl's faces, they wanted this today and they could feel how close they were."
Meanwhile, Montclair was trying to hold on defensively. But Pryor struck twice more, tying the game with 6:48 left in regulation.
When she wasn't scoring, Pryor was moving the ball around and getting other players involved. Montclair couldn't just lock on her, because someone else was always going to be a threat.
Pryor said that's a change from last year and she doesn't feel like she has to dominate the ball.
"I think it's because in previous years we hadn't had as much depth on the team," Pryor said after the game. "It was always, maybe, two girls driving to the goal. But I know I'm not the only one who can score a goal. Every single person next to me, I'm comfortable with them having the ball. I don't think it has to be all one person doing it all, because we all have the capability to take control of the game."
The two sides battled back and fourth for the next four minutes, each team getting chances to score and each goalie making a key save when they needed to.
But a penalty call near the Mounties' net set Pryor up for her fifth goal of the game, as she beat MHS goalie Jada Auletta in a situation that is tough to stop for a goalie. When you have a penalty as close to the net as this was, there's nobody between the shooter and the goalie.
And with a shooter like Pryor, a goalie is at an even greater disadvantage.
"A lot of credit goes to Lily," Intrabartola said. "All four years she thrives in these kind of games. She is totally comfortable putting the team on her back. Fighting and not giving up and being that energy her team needs even when we're down."
The game was far from over though, and MKA needed to protect its lead from a gutty Montclair team.
That meant the defense had to step up, which started with goalie Reilly Hughes.
Despite allowing six goals, Hughes never hung her head or acted discouraged. Intrabartola said that she's seen Hughes really improve in these situations, and become a very positive and stable presence in net.
"And just as a person, she's upbeat and energetic, someone people gravitate towards," Intrabartola said. "That's her personality, keeping everybody up and positive, during the game. Having that as your leader back there on the defensive end, is definitely an advantage going into any game."
She had help, as the defense worked hard to jam the Mounties and make sure they couldn't get a clear shot on goal.
RELATED: MOUNTIES BOYS LACROSSE OFFENSE STALLS IN LOSS TO CALDWELL
"Our whole defense together in those last two minutes of the game, they stepped up and put a lot into the play that I didn't ask them to do, they just kind of did that on their own."
The defense held it together in the face of a relentless MHS offensive effort, grinding down the clock until the last second.
In the end, it was enough and now the Cougars are heading to have another chance to make program history in the ECT championship game.
"They fought through, figured out what wasn't working for us on offense—we were trying a lot of the same thing over and over again offensively and Montclair did a great job of stopping it," Intrabartola said. "So we made some adjustments, started moving the ball more, tried a couple of different plays."
Along with MHS' Walls-Tarver, the game featured another 100-goal scorer in the person of Claire Linaugh. The MKA senior recently scored her 100th goal against Morristown-Beard early last month.
Her current goal-total is 112 for her career, while the MHS junior has 106. Walls-Tarver has 146 career points, while Linaugh has 126.