by Andrew Garda

The Montclair Kimberley Academy girls soccer team has won two championships over the last week and a half, and are now poised to add a third. With a 3-0 win over Lodi Immaculate on Monday, Nov. 6, the Cougars got themselves into the NJSIAA Non-Public B finals and could add a State Championship to the Prep B and Essex County titles they have won recently.

It’s been a long road and an intense stretch of games.

The Prep title, which was captured with a 0-0 tie to Princeton Day on Nov. 1 marked their fourth game in eight days, something that was challenging for the team. But for coach Christie Welsh, it was also something to be appreciated.

“I told our team that there are a lot of teams home right now that would love to be in our shoes,” Welsh said after the Prep win on Nov. 1.

The Prep title and the Essex County title were both co-championships, which definitely left the Cougars dissatisfied.

“Yes, I secretly love the fact that there’s some dejected kind of faces,” Welsh said at the time. “Because that means that they want it so bad and will compete because they want it.”

Welsh is betting it drives them harder to win straight out and avoid another tie when they face Morristown Catholic on Thursday, Nov. 9.

The Cougars last faced MC in the 2016 NJSIAA semifinal round, and lost 1-0 in a game that went to overtime. Morris Catholic went on to beat Newark Academy to win the championship.

For MKA to overcome Morristown Catholic, they are going to have to continue playing great defense while finding goals from players besides Kerri McGuire.

The Crusaders are prolific goal scorers, notching 75 scores during the course of this season, led by Bailey Chant’s 27 and Abbey Shirkey’s 24. By comparison, the Cougars have scored just 51 times, and only McGuire has scored in the double digits, with 21 goals.

MKA's Kerri McGuire had several chances that were turned aside during the Cougars' Prep B tournament final against Princeton Day on Wednesday, Nov. 1.
MKA's Kerri McGuire had several chances that were turned aside during the Cougars' Prep B tournament final against Princeton Day on Wednesday, Nov. 1.

“Kerri, she’s scored a lot,” Welsh said of McGuire. “She’s come up in moments where she has known she needed to for us.”

Welsh is going to need someone else to step up, as Jaime Fuchs did on Monday against Lodi Immaculate when she found the back of the net on the first goal of the game.

“I’m happy for Jaime because she works really hard,” Welsh said Monday afternoon. “Sometimes she’s been on the end of things and hasn’t finished them this season, so it’s good for her to get a goal. She had a great game for us today. I think it’s important for different people to step up at different times. We had a lot of shots and they weren’t sinking, so it was like ‘OK, we’re just going to keep cycling through to see who can get it in for us.’”

Some rest might help. After that eight-day stretch during which they secured shares of both the Prep and County titles, the Cougars got two days off before beating Newark Academy 3-2 in the second round of the NJSIAA and then three days before Monday’s semifinal match.

For Welsh, it was helpful to finally be able to get her team some rest.

“It’s good to get out of that little two-week bout of game day, off, game day, off,” she said of the cluster of games. “It was nice to have two days over the weekend before this. Now we’ve got another two days to get some legs back for some people.”

It’s critical, Welsh said, to get as many of her players ready to go as possible.

“We still have some people who are pretty bruised and fatigued.”

Welsh hopes the rest and desire will be enough to add another championship to the list of accomplishments her team has had in 2017, but whatever the outcome on Thursday, she’s been impressed with how far her team has come.

“I’m proud of the group. We’ve gone the distance in terms of what we’ve needed to do and we’ve won when we needed to.”

That said, she expects the Cougars to continue to improve and finish their season with the same effort they started it with.

“Today was probably not one of our better performances,” she said after the win over Lodi Immaculate. “But I’m proud of them for continually getting better through the course of the game, making smarter decisions and keeping possession and [things] like that.”