Young Montclair Kimberley Academy girls basketball team looking for steady growth
To say the Montclair Kimberley girls basketball team is young is to state the very obvious: It has only one senior on the roster.
The Cougars last spring graduated their top two players, Patricia Columbia-Walsh and Ayantu Flowers, who were both on the All Super Essex Conference Independence Division first team last season.
For 2022-23, the lone senior is Monica Labib, who was named to the All Independence second team last year, when Montclair Kimberley was 13-8.
The Cougars started this season with a 1-2 mark, with their lone win so far coming on Dec. 22 with a 33-29 victory at Newark East Side.
Montclair Kimberley has moved up the ladder in the SEC from the Independence to the Colonial, where it will take on the likes of Glen Ridge, Millburn and Payne Tech; all three have started out well so far in 2022-23.
MKA head coach Isabel Mendez is looking for incremental progress during the season.
"Given that we are a younger team, we are simply looking to get better during every practice and game," Mendez said.
"Success can be measured by wins; however, we are mainly striving for growth as the season progresses. For example, improving their game sense and individual skill, that would be a success for us."
Labib and junior Salange Bell are the heart of the team. Bell was also named to the All Independence second team last season.
To start the season Bell was the point guard, while Labib and junior Aeryn Curren are also at the guard spots.
The youth is in the forward positions, with a pair of freshmen, Lily Belle Critchley and Emery Wallis, starting the new season inside.
Mendez likes Labib's work ethic and defensive play. "I like how Monica is constantly filling the outside lanes after we rebound the ball," the coach said. "She and other players are the reason why we can score off of a fast break. She also works tirelessly on defense."
Bell is one of the best athletes at the school and can compete both on offense and defense on the court, the coach said.
"I like her competitiveness and effort on both ends of the floor," Mendez said. "She is an amazing athlete and gives our team the spark it needs.
“On the defensive end, she improved on being more disciplined by moving her feet and not reaching as much as last season. This is huge because we certainly do not want her in foul trouble."
Five other freshmen could see some time on the floor this season: Saniya Bansal, May Cotter, Caroline Frey, Maudie Grace Lomuscio and Jasmine Troutt.
"All seven freshmen bring different things to the table," Mendez said. "We are really excited about this group."
In the victory over East Side the Cougars held on in the fourth quarter for the Independence Division win. It was Labib and Bell leading the scoring, with 14 and 12 points respectively. East Side also moved up with MKA from the Independence to the Colonial Division, so the win was an acid test in the early going of the new season.
Mendez knows what her team's strengths are and what it needs to improve on if it wants to get more victories.
"We have speed and the ability to push the ball up the floor quickly," she said. "We definitely need to work on minimizing turnovers and second-chance opportunities for the opposing team."
Montclair Kimberley girls basketball
(Games at 4 p.m. unless noted)
Jan. 3 at Millburn
Jan. 5 Arts
Jan. 7 Newark Academy, 11 a.m.
Jan. 10 at Newark Tech
Jan. 12 at Payne Tech
Jan. 13 at North Star Academy
Jan. 17 Verona
Jan. 19 at Glen Ridge
Jan. 20 at Kent Place
Jan. 23 Essex County Tournament, TBA
Jan. 24 East Side
Jan. 26 Essex County Tournament, TBA
Jan. 28 Essex County Tournament, TBA
Jan. 31 Millburn
Feb. 2 at Arts
Feb. 3 at Pingry, 4:15 p.m.
Feb. 5 Prep quarterfinals, TBA
Feb. 7 Newark Tech
Feb. 12 Prep semifinals, TBA
Feb. 15 Prep finals, TBA