It was an epic weekend for Montclair High School.
The boys’ and girls’ soccer teams both put up dominating performances in back-to-back days to each take home the NJSIAA Northeast Group 4 championship.
Even more impressive than finishing the season as state champions? Both teams finished off with an undefeated record and conference titles under their belt.
“We fed off of each other,” said Mounties boys’ soccer head coach Toure Weaver. “[The girls team] would win and then support us, we would win and then support them.”
The boys took the field first, squaring off against rival Livingston on Saturday, Nov. 21. The last time the two teams met, the game capped off at a 1-1 tie – the only tie of the Mounties’ undefeated season.
It was senior Ben Ceccio who stepped up in a huge way for Montclair in the final, delivering all three of the Mounties’ goals, to lead his team over Livingston, 3-0, and grab the state title, at Fortunato Field.
Ceccio struck early in the first 10 minutes of the game. Senior Luca Campbell sent the ball down the line to Ceccio, who beat a defender and struck one into the side netting on the far side of the goal to set the tone of the game. Ceccio scored his next two in the second half to seal the deal.
“We were undefeated this year but there were ups and downs,” Weaver said. He noted that during the season, the team sat down for a candid conversation in which the coaching staff discussed their non-negotiables and the players expressed what they were feeling. That moment, Weaver says, was pivotal in guiding the team to their success for the remainder of the season.
The girls make it two
The next day, the girls’ team took the field – pumped up from the boys’ win – and looking to the bring home their own state championship trophy with a triumph over Livingston.
The Mounties entered the final game on Sunday afternoon following a thrilling 1-0 double-overtime semifinal victory over Ridgefield, that came off the foot of senior Clare Manning in the final minute of the game.
When the first whistle blew, Montclair jumped out furiously, putting up constant pressure against the Livingston defense. Quickly, the Mounties utilized a corner kick set piece to go up, 1-0, after Manning sent in a perfect ball that Katie Giordano headed into the net within the first 10 minutes of play.
Sophomore Sonia Neighbors made it 2-0 off a breakaway, tipping the ball in over the keeper. But, Livingston answered back with a goal to cut the Mounties’ lead to 2-1.
So, Manning, who had uncharacteristically missed a penalty kick earlier in the game, found her time for redemption – knocking one in with a touch around the goalie to keep the momentum strong for Montclair at 3-1.
It was game over when Kiera Hessler won a great ball and passed it to Neighbors, who fed it to Emily Crane who slotted the ball into the corner to give the Mounties a 4-1 cushion for the final 15 minutes of play.
“It was definitely one of their best games in the three years I’ve been coaching,” said Montclair girls head coach Ashley Hammond.
This particular group of girls has put up an incredible 31-1-2 record over the last two years, going an undefeated 13-0-1 this season – made even more impressive by the fact that they never played from behind at any point during the season.
Goalie Molly Brumbach stood strong between the posts, only conceding a total of just five goals in 14 games throughout the season.
Hammond attributes a large part of Montclair’s success to the incredible leadership of senior captains Manning and Sydney Masur.
“Greatness starts at the top and goes right through the bottom, and the freshmen are so thrilled when Syd and Clare speak to them, and they do it all the time,” he said noting that the upper leadership on the team puts a focus on making each underclassman feel important in their roles with the team. “When you have leadership like that, it just permeates everything we do.”
Throughout the entire state tournament run, senior Sören Tollis couldn’t stop thinking about how lucky he felt to be from Montclair and be part of the boys’ soccer program.
“You saw in the final [game] all of the Montclair alumni that were in attendance, giving us support,” Tollis said. “That’s something special. [Coach] Weaver always talks about how players don’t make freshmen, JV, or Varsity – they make the program, and when you’re a part of this program, you’ll forever be a part of it.”
For Masur, winning the state championship alongside her best friends was a dream come true and the perfect way to cap off her career at Montclair High School. “Even with all the uncertainty this year and the altered season, I wouldn’t change a thing about my senior season and the way it ended,” she said.
Both Hammond and Weaver praised their respective teams for their maturity during uncertain times – being responsible and doing everything they could to ensure there wouldn’t be a shutdown from COVID-19 jeopardizing their dominant seasons.
“As a group we knew that nothing was guaranteed this year and maybe our senior season wouldn’t feel the same, but we knew we had to work with what we had,” said boys’ senior captain Felipe Gutierrez. That work even included team at-home Zoom workouts before organized practicing could be held.
Gutierrez took his leadership off the field too, taking it upon himself to organize a team fundraiser that raised over $7,000 for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in response to the death of George Floyd.
“Our group showed our talent and fight all year and it led us to complete our mission,” he said. “I will rep this navy blue until the end. Go Montclair!”