by Andrew Garda

As the 2017 Montclair High School girls soccer team gets ready for its first game, they find themselves looking to replace some key pieces from a very successful 2016 season.

Somehow second-year head coach Eric Weintraub needs to replace his three captains — Gabby Isola, Jill Jennings and Sophie Foster-Palmer — if the Mounties are going to continue to build on their 13-4-1 from last fall.

Weintraub has already seen his team step up.

“The young players are stepping in and we have a lot of girls who were on varsity last year who came back,” he said after a recent scrimmage. “They’re giving it everything they have and they’re helping the team as well.”

One of the varsity players from last season is senior defender Nora Giordano. A multi-sport athlete, Giordano is someone Weintraub can trust to be the foundation of his defensive line. Giordano is also a person the newer players can look to in order to find out how to approach the game at a high level.

“She’s going to help out the younger kids a lot, they can learn a lot from her,” Weintraub said. “She plays hard every day.”

Giordano is one of three captains on the varsity squad, along with junior Jill O’Toole and senior Rebecca Van Siclen.

“They’re great players, they’re great kids,” said Weintraub. “They’re going to guide this team in the right direction.”

All three stood out in their recent scrimmage against Immaculate Heart. Giordano made several great plays on defense, O’Toole broke up several passes and Van Siclen scored.

Weintraub also needs to make sure his team is set for a goalkeeper. Isola is now at Villanova, leaving her former backup — sophomore Amelia Platt — to battle for the job with junior Birgitta Taylor-Lillquist who was the starter for junior varsity in 2016. Platt missed the first week of the preseason, which allowed Taylor-Lillquist to show off her skills, including during the scrimmage against Immaculate.

Preseason position battles aside, Weintraub says the team has most been in need of an infusion of confidence. There are plenty of returning varsity players, but there are also younger players who have not played soccer at the intensity high school brings, and veteran players in new positions or with new responsibilities.

Players must learn to trust one another to do what they are supposed to, and communicate to make sure that when something goes sideways, someone can lend a hand. One purpose of the preseason scrimmages is to give the younger players some much-needed experience against stiff competition, but the scrimmages also highlight some of the hiccups in communication the team is still trying to smooth out.

That’s where veterans like Giordano come in, as they can rein in the younger players on the field and help them focus on what they are supposed to do.

When the communication is there, the team defends very well, and moves the ball quickly down the field. It’s a process that Weintraub says he has seen improvement in every day in practice.

The coach said the team is constantly evaluating those improvements — and who is at the heart of them. Practices are highly competitive, as players jockey for time and position. However, while the players are committed to improving on the field personally, they are also committed to making the whole team work. Unselfish play is as important as ball movement and defense and the Mounties are a team of unselfish players.

Weintraub feels that, taken as a whole, the roster is a very solid one and can do a lot.

“I’m happy with what we have and we’ll see if we can build on it.”