by Andrew Garda

The Montclair High School girls soccer team secured their place in the Essex County Tournament with a 3-1 victory over Mount St. Dominic Academy Tuesday night at Caldwell High School.

The top-seeded Mounties had all they could handle in the form of the No. 4-seeded Mount St. Dominic, as the Mount did a good job of tying up Montclair’s offense in the middle of the field and sending the ball into Montclair’s end. 

However, Montclair’s defense held their own and the two teams spent much of the first ten minutes trading possession of the ball. 

Part of the Montclair gameplan early was sending Emily Crane streaking up the middle of the field, speeding past defenders while one of the wings sent her the ball. After several near misses, Crane finally connected on a looping pass which she drove past the MSD goalie into the back of the net.

With 23 minutes left in the first half, the Mounties had a 1-0 lead. 

The Mount didn’t flinch, though, and they would score on a breakaway with 8:46 left in the half to even things up.

The breakaway came off an errant pass which MSD turned around and sent upfield into open space. 

This was something head coach Ashley Hammond would say after the game had been a concern for Montclair.

"Yeah they’ve got a couple of very good players, the big girl in the middle, she’s hard work,” he said after the win. “We were very concerned about their reverse play, fast ball through the middle.”

While Montclair’s defense worked to slow the Mount’s attack, the MHS own offense got going again, this time with Katie Giordano, who outran  pair of defenders and sent a short pass just over the head of the Mount’s goalie, who had come out to play the ball.

MHS' Kate Giordano sends the ball over the Mount St. Dominic goalie for a score during Montclair's 3-1 ECT win on Oct. 15.
MHS' Kate Giordano sends the ball over the Mount St. Dominic goalie for a score during Montclair's 3-1 ECT win on Oct. 15.

With a 2-1 lead, Montclair headed into halftime, where Hammond said the earlier mistake which resulted in the breakaway was the focus.

“We got caught in the first half, we made some adjustments at halftime, and we were damned sure not going to get caught in the second half,” Hammond said.

The MHS coach said that while he and his staff made the overall adjustments, it was really the team that did the hard work, being smart, patient and reading the field of play in front of them.

“That was largely down to the brains of the girls in the middle, reading the play every time,” he explained. “If you watch you can see how many times Kiera [Hessler] , Baldy [Baldwin Gittens], [Shelby] Duffy and [Emma] Belsky in the back just step so fast in the second half. That’s just because they’re so smart”

While the two sides continued to play tight soccer, Montclair’s adjustments shut MSD down, and most of the play took place with MHS on offense. That would translate to a goal by Sydney Masur with 4:24 left in the game, which sealed the win.

Hammond had a lot of praise for his team, especially his centers, such as Masur, Crane and Claire Manning. 

“I think it’s hard to understand exactly how hard those center forwards work for us. We ask a lot of them,” he said.  “[Crane] was constantly going left-right-left-right-left-right and she tortured them and eventually got a goal. And Claire Manning right underneath her puts a shift in as well, which is incredible.”

Someone else Hammond was impressed with was Chloe Nemes, who played the game with a 102 degree fever. 

“She went to school today, suffered through school just to make sure she was eligible tonight,” he said. “But she played with [a fever] and you’d think that she was just perfectly normal because she managed the whole game. And credit to her for that.”

Hammond said that toughness of will is a hallmark of a team that will need both things to defeat No. 3 seeded Livingston, who beat No. 2 seeded West Orange 3-2.

The two meet Saturday, Oct. 19 at Livingston High School, with the game slated to start at 5pm.