Montclair schools prepare for winter sports
courtesy Keith Adams
BY ANDREW GARDA
While the weather hasn’t quite been winterlike on a consistent basis yet, high school winter sports are already underway, either with the start of practice or, in the case of hockey, already playing.
Here is a preview of the teams that will compete for Montclair High School, Montclair Kimberley Academy and Immaculate Conception.
Montclair High School
Hockey — The Mounties struggled a bit during the COVID-19 winter schedule, but avoided any quarantines and played a full schedule, which was the biggest aim of then-coach Mark Janifer and his staff.
Janifer has stepped aside this year, and 2009 MHS graduate Connor Smith will be behind the bench. Smith played for Janifer and former coach Pat Verney and is intimately familiar with the program. Janifer is staying on as assistant coach through the transition.
The season is already underway, and the Mounties have struggled against some tough opponents, including a 4-2 loss to Westfield, the No. 17 team in the state.
Girls basketball — The Mounties had an exceptional run during the 2020-21 season, finishing with a 13-2 record overall and a division-title-winning 11-0 in SEC-Independence. Ed Connell and his staff are back to build on that success, along with seniors like Ayanna Brantley and Phoebe Sullivan, who were dominant rebounders, totaling 240 between them. Meanwhile, sophomore Morgan Marshall blasted onto the scene as a freshman last year with a staggering 337 points, 57 rebounds and 79 steals.
The team kicks things off at home against Millburn on Dec. 17, with tipoff at 4 p.m.
Boys basketball — Montclair had a rough season in 2020-21, finishing with a 4-7 record and in quarantine. Head coach Gary Wallace continued to preach hard work and focus all season, and the Mounties played admirably considering the off-court situation the players were dealing with in terms of COVID-19 restrictions both around the games as well as at school. The team will be relying on players like seniors Omari Thusi and Collin Gibson.
Montclair remains in the Liberty division this year and opens against Orange on the road Dec. 17, with a 6 p.m. tipoff.
Fencing — The MHS fencing team proudly announced it was the most COVID-ready team at the school, as its members always wore masks, and if anyone got within 6 feet of a fencer, they ran the risk of being jabbed by a foil, saber or epee. Second-year head coach Donovan Holtz helped his team navigate the season successfully, with the girls finishing 7-4 and the boys ending up 5-6, but with the program’s first win over Columbia in five years.
While a lot of talent has graduated — notably Amira Mutakabbir and Georgia Chen on the girls’ side and George Buccino and Jude Eaves on the boys squad — there is still a lot to lean on for the Mounties.
Senior foil Alexander Brown had an exceptional run last season, finishing 30-3, while freshman foil Daniel Moroze notched a 21-12 record.
Wrestling — The wrestling season started late — they were pushed to March as the NJSIAA juggled indoor sports during the pandemic — and the season was very short, with just six matches.
With things closer to normal, head coach Eugene Kline will refocus on building the Mounties into a top-notch team, continuing to work with the youth programs while instilling a solid work ethic in his MHS team.
This year provides the Mounties with a lot more opportunity, as the team faces a full schedule of 14 meets as well as various tournaments. Things start on Dec. 21 as the group heads to Secaucus for a 5:30 p.m. meet.
Swimming — It was a strange season for Ed Koenigsfest’s Mounties, as meets were held in separate pools and locations, with times trickling in post-race, but the Mounties made the most of it with the girls going 11-0 (5-0 SEC-American) and the boys 9-2 (3-2 SEC-American). The boys lost to Newark Academy to start the season, but then won eight meets straight before losing to Seton Hall Prep, while the girls just plain dominated the competition.
So far, the girls have looked good with wins over Newark Academy (99-71) and Tenafly (121-49), while the boys came up short against the same teams, losing 104-66 to Newark Academy and 113-57 to Tenafly.
Bowling — Like everyone else, the Mounties had an abbreviated season last year, with the boys finishing 4-5 and the girls 5-3.
This season the boys are rolling, beating Belleville, Bloomfield and Barringer to start things off, though the girls have seen a rockier path, with losses to Belleville and Bloomfield but a win over Barringer. The two squads next meet Nutley on Dec. 14.
Indoor track — Last season was almost a nonentity for MHS, as restrictions in New York, where most indoor meets are held, kept New Jersey teams at home. It might be some of the same this year, but if that is the case, head coach Daryl Washington will do what he did in 2020-21 and use the indoor season as a tuneup for the spring season, a move that paid dividends last year.
Montclair Kimberley Academy
Hockey — Last year, Tim Cook’s Cougars struggled both on the ice (finishing 4-5, 2-3 in the NJIIHL-Kelly division) and to stay on the ice, as they faced quarantine in the middle of the season. This year the team has hit the ice at a dead sprint, beating Scotch Plains-Fanwood 7-1 and Oratory 4-3. Both wins were on the road, which seemed a good sign for the team as it returned to face Frisch on Wednesday, Dec. 8 (results coming after press time).
Next up, another home game on Dec. 10, this time against Millburn, with the puck dropping at 4:15 p.m.
Girls basketball — Last year was a step back for the Cougars, who went from 16-6 (13-1 SEC-Freedom) during the 2019-20 season to 1-9 (1-7 SEC-Colonial) last year. They’ve got a new coach this year, Isabella Mendez, and hope to rebound on the strength of a potent senior duo, Ayantu Flowers and Patricia Columbia-Walsh, who have been key pieces for the Cougars throughout their time at MKA.
The season begins against Shabazz on Dec. 17 at home, with tipoff at 4 p.m.
Boys basketball — After taking a year off because of COVID, head coach Tony Jones is back on the bench. Last season saw the Cougars go 6-9 (6-5 SEC-Freedom), largely on the strength of the play of Brennan Columbia-Walsh, who in a normal year with a regular schedule of games would have had career highs in most categories.
Columbia-Walsh is back, and if the Cougars can get him some help, this is a team with a lot of upside in a division where they can make a lot of noise.
They open on the road Dec. 17 against Science Park at 4 p.m.
Swimming — Gretchen Levers will be MKA’s head swim coach this year, and the Cougars look to a fresh start with her after a season where the boys finished 2-8-1 (2-3 SEC-Liberty) and the girls 4-6 (3-2 SEC-Liberty).
So far the girls have beaten West Orange but lost to Glen Ridge, while the boys won both matches. Next up the teams take on Verona at home on Dec. 9.
Indoor track — As with Montclair High School, MKA didn’t see much action in 2020-21, but head coach Tim White will focus on the opportunities that sit in front of the team in a new year. While the boys roster is small (just six runners), the girls have a roster of 14, which means there could be talent to spare this winter.
Girls basketball — Jimmy Kreie is back for another season, looking to build on a year where his team had some hiccups overall to finish 7-8, but once again did very well in the division (4-2 SEC-American). Immaculate always has plenty of talent, and this year seniors Tiara Bellamy and Niyah Whitten take over as the main leadership, while younger players such as sophomore Tayla Thomas will also be looked to for production.
It shouldn’t be a problem for Thomas, as the forward scored 151 points as a freshman.
Boys basketball — The Lions did really well last season, finishing 10-5 overall and 4-0 in the SEC-American, and it’s a shame they didn’t play in any tournaments because they had a lot of talent.
The team under Jimmy Salmon always has a tough schedule, beyond the games they have in the top division in North Jersey basketball, and this season looks to be no different. Out-of-conference games only matter to the team to sharpen it for division and tournament play, and so as much as the Lions will look to heap on out-of-state teams and powerhouses when they can, it’s teams like Seton Hall Prep and Newark East Side they circle on the schedule.
Speaking of which, they open at East Side on Dec. 17, with tipoff at 4 p.m.