Mental strength has been the No. 1 attribute all season long on the Montclair High School girls soccer team, according to Head Coach Ashley Hammond.
And the Mounties proved their undeniable mental strength yet again on Thursday afternoon, defeating West Orange High School, 2-1, to claim the NJSIAA North 1, Group 4 sectional title, to stay undefeated with an incredible 20-0-1 record. The victory marks the squad’s second title so far this season, following their Essex County Tournament championship.
The win was the program’s fifth-ever sectional title, the first since 2014 when the Mounties went on to win the entire NJSIAA state tournament.
“We were very good today,” Hammond said. “When [West Orange] scored to make it 2-1, the girls were so mentally strong and were able to see out the last 15 minutes, which was incredible.”
The Mounties took the early lead midway through the first half when junior defender Baldwin Gittens knocked the ball in from the back post off a corner kick to put Montclair up, 1-0 at halftime.
Montclair exploded out in the second half, dominating the field as the junior midfielder Sydney Masur cracked in a header from the back post, again off a corner kick, to give the Mounties a 2-0 lead.
“We were absolutely cruising and out of absolutely nowhere, [West Orange senior] Natalie Nevins found a hole in the back of the box and poked one in for 2-1 and then it was absolute mayhem for the last 15 minutes… with them pressing the box and looking like they would get an equalizer, but that’s where the strength comes in, the girls were just so strong and able to deal with the pressure,” said Hammond.
Despite a chaotic final 15 minutes, Montclair’s defensive line of Gittens, junior Emma Belsky and sophomores Shelby Duffy and Kiera Hessler were able to hold off the onslaught of West Orange threats, with the help from senior goalie Amelia Platt in net.
“We just needed to make sure that we stayed focused and got all of the balls out of the box because that’s where they capitalized — off of their set pieces,” Masur said. “We knew it would come down to whoever worked the hardest in the end, and we definitely stayed focused and had to keep our heads, clear the ball out of our box and finish, and we were able to do so.”
Throughout the season, the Mounties have heard the team’s mantra from their coaching staff over and over again: “You are technically capable, physically brilliant and mentally strong.”
They’ll turn to that mantra once again next Tuesday, Nov. 12, when they take on Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the NJSIAA Group 4 final.
“We definitely have a special group of girls,” Masur said. “To be with this group of girls and do what we’ve done so far has been really really special because we’ve put in so much work. It’s definitely been very nice to feel some satisfaction in getting two titles so far. Hopefully we can go through and make it all the way to the state finals.”
For Hammond, the dream ride continues.
“To show up to work every day and have 30 brilliant, strong, clever women to train is a privilege and a pleasure for any coach,” he said. “How lucky am I?”