Expectations are soaring for the Montgomery High School girls soccer team as it prepares for the 2012 season.
Coming off a Somerset County Tournament championship over state Non-Public A and Skyland Delaware champ Pingry, a Central Group IV sectional title and a trip to the state Group IV final, the Cougars return a team stacked with a veteran standout senior class and highly talented group of juniors and seem poised for a magical season.
But while the focus for many teams is chasing history and establishing its place in program and local lore – especially squads of mostly upperclassmen who have been playing on varsity since their freshmen seasons like at Montgomery – for this team, it has nobody to measure against but itself.
“Expectations are greater now because we won two enormous championships last year,” said Montgomery coach Jeremy Beardsley, who has compiled a 192-55-16 record that’s included three county titles, two state finals appearances and a Group III state championship during his 13 years at the helm. “To win a Somerset County championship and beat a loaded Pingry team is the greatest result I’ve ever had. I’m a handful of wins away from 200 wins, and that win last year against Pingry was historic. And then to come back a couple of days later to start a run to win our first Group IV sectional championships, you come back and expectations are even higher. If this group can achieve what they achieved last year, it will be even more of an accomplishment.”
Led by senior midfielder Andrea Niper and senior forward Catring Atanda – both four-year starters – as well as junior forward Colby Ciarrocca and junior backs Michelle Wiltse and Katherine Lynch, the Cougars are being considered for the state’s No. 1 ranking and the favorite to challenge Lenape’s reign as five-time Group IV state champion.
For all the talented and accomplished squads Montgomery has had over the past decade, expectations are at their highest this season.
“No one ever talked about them as the No. 1 team in the state,” said Beardsley of his previous squads, specifically the 2008 team that was stacked with 12 seniors, including local soccer legends like forward Alex Vazquez, defender Lexi Simon and keeper Ally Mancino.
“There is a ton more pressure on this team because of last year. We did what we did last year and only lost two starters, so everyone just assumes history will repeat itself. But it doesn’t work like that in Somerset County, the Skyland Conference and the state of New Jersey. That puts a burden on our seniors and that’s fine, we’ll deal with that.”
“Knowing we won both the county and the section last year, it’s a lot of pressure,” said Niper, whose sister, Casey, was a starting central midfielder as a junior on the 2008 team. “They didn’t have that to live up to and I think that’s going to make us even better. “Having that pressure is going to make us push that much harder.”
By all accounts, the Cougars are not only showing no signs of letting the pressures of their own expectation get to them, but seem to be welcoming it. While many are comparing this year’s team to the previous juggernauts that have worn the green and white, this year’s edition is trying to establish itself as the benchmark for greatness at Montgomery, in Somerset County and in the state.
“Last year we settled for two championships, this year we want to win all four and I think that’s really going to push us,” said Niper, who is headed to play for the University of Buffalo next season. “We want to have that history. We made our history last year, but that’s over with, that’s in the books. We have to reach even further. Especially this being my senior year, I want to have that legacy and leave that with Montgomery girls soccer.”