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Montclair's outstandng sophomore midfielder Rebecca Van Siclen (5), seen here geting after ball in recent SEC action vs. Nutley, is one of the top players to watch for county's No. 1 team. (Photos by Bill Allen- NJSportAction.NET)

Montclair's tenacious junior Jillian Jennings (6) works her way inbetween Nuley defenders as the Mounties are on attack against the Maroon Raiders.

Caldwell's terrific goalkeeper Phoebe Bledsoe (right), seen here getting after the ball against West Essex in an early-season match, had a performance to remember against the state power Montclair this past Tuesday in SEC action.

Teams Look To Rise Up Now
With ECT Seedings On Oct. 13
…Caldwell’s Keeper & Montclair’s Oct. 6 Foe Hot Topics

By Steve Tober

As strong a side Montclair is, and as overwhelming a favorite as the Mounties are to repeat as Essex County Tournament champions later this month, if there was ever evidence of how a soccer match can come down to a kick here or a header there - and the underdog can always be in the mix right up to the very end - it had to be in this past Tuesday’s (Sept. 29) Caldwell-Montclair contest at Fortunato Field where the Lady Chiefs’ goalkeeper Phoebe Bledsoe nearly stood on her head in helping her team to almost pull off perhaps the upset of the Super Essex Conference regular season.

Bledsoe, one of New Jersey’s best but still unheralded keepers, had an unbelievable 28 saves in a 1-0 Lady Chiefs loss to the Mounties.

It was one of the definitive performances of note on an SEC girls soccer scene where there is definite star power this fall with standouts such as Montclair’s Jillian Jennings (Maryland commit), Rebecca VanSiclen and Fiona Tubiana; Glen Ridge’s Princeton-bound Tomi Kennedy and Montclair Kimberley Academy’s Boston College-bound Olivia Vaughn.

“Phoebe has always been a natural talent and exceptional athlete yet she devoted herself in the off season to work on improving and getting better through hard work in all areas of her goalkeeping,” said veteran Caldwell coach Mike Teshkyan. “As a result she has been on top of her game and is serving as an inspiration to the rest of her teammates.

“What is most impressive is her positive leadership and calming influence and the way in which she stays poised through adversity. She has given our players tremendous confidence and belief that we can compete against the top teams in our area.”

ECT Seeding Meeting On Horizon

The seeding meeting for the 2015 Essex County Tournament is still more than a week away (Tuesday, Oct. 13, at Mount St. Dominic); however, the tourney is clearly Montclair’s to win again unless someone like a Bledsoe rises to the occasion in goal or a Kennedy (10 goals, 5 assists so far this fall for 8-1-1 Ridgers) or Vaughn (12 and 7 for 8-0 Cougars) somehow breaks through the strong resistance always present in Montclair 18-yard area, and can somehow find the back of the net in a huge spot in a closely-contested match.

First round ECT action commences Oct. 21 with the quarters on Oct. 24. The semis this season are Wednesday, Oct. 28, at Millburn, with the final slated for Saturday, Oct. 31, 7 p.m., at Belleville Municipal Stadium..

Montclair edged Glen Ridge, 1-0, in last fall’s ECT final at Millburn.

Eyes On Tuesday’s Montclair-Northern Highlands Clash

For Montclair (8-0), the defending Group 4 state champs, the upcoming schedule also includes a huge independent contest as No. 1 ranked and four-time defending Group 3 state champion Northern Highlands comes to Fortunato Field for a very high-profile regular-season showdown, 4:15 p.m., Tuesday (Oct. 6).

Northern Highlands, which owns a season-opening 3-1 win over Maria Carrillo of California, last year’s No. 1 ranked team in the country, snapping the Golden State team’s 75-match win streak, has been ranked No. 1 nationally this season by

Northern Highlands, which will contend with Immaculate Heart for the Bergen County Tournament title this fall, is led by Georgetown-bound senior midfielder Casey Richards and senior center back Morgan Busacca.

One intriguing aspect of Tuesday’s Montclair-Northern Highlands match to watch could be whether the Mounties’ standout junior goal keeper Gabby Isola, who has been sidelined the first month of the season with a hand injury, returns to action against the nation’s No. 1 girls soccer side.

Her replacement in goal, senior Ming Palling-Goetz, has been superb for the Mounties, but perhaps Isola steps back onto the pitch in this huge spot for Montclair on Tuesday?

Third-year head coach Rob McOmish, who is an impressive 51-3 in two-plus seasons, will have decisions to make, but regardless, he knows whoever he puts out there vs. Northern Highlands, he will have talent at every position for what is a very deep Mountie girls soccer side.

VanSiclen and Tubiana are terrific sophomore midfielders, while Jennings, who has joined Glen Ridge’s Kennedy and MKA’s Vaughn from Essex, on a pre-season All-American watch list, is a dynamo of energy and persistence and has scored a team-high 5 goals to go along with 5 assists for the very balanced Mounties, who also are led by impressive junior midfielder Sophie Foster-Palmer.

Caldwell, Wessex, Livingston & Nutley Among Those To Keep Eye On

Looking around the SEC, Caldwell (4-5-1), with a 4-1-1 mark in its last six matches, hopes to figure in as far as competing for at least a quarterfinal berth in the ECT this fall, while an upstart West Essex (2-5-1), under first-year coach Allison Decker, may not have the victories to show for itself so far, but the Lady Knights have been a handful behind the opportunistic Kristen Barth and steady keeper Naomi Pidgeon, dropping narrow 1-goal matches to Glen Ridge, Livingston and Caldwell (4-3, Friday, Oct. 1).

“Kristina Barth has been a strong presence for us in the back and proved that even a defender can find the back of the net. She had a hat-trick against Caldwell on Thursday,” said Decker “Naomi Pidgeon has been doing a tremendous job in the net especially with the difficult competition in the SEC.

“Although we have seen the shorter end on the stick in some of our games, I look forward to the county tournament to prove ourselves against these teams. Counties always brings that extra level of fierceness and competition. As we are still finding ourselves, I think that with the right focus we can see some end results in our favor.” 

Speaking of Livingston, the Lady Lancers are always a handful despite the fact veteran coach Paul Raiz has had to reload the lineup with younger players over the past two seasons and you can never count out his side in a big spot come county tournament time.

Nutley (6-5) is another talented side which has played nearly everyone to a narrow decision, including Montclair in a closely-contested 3-1 loss to the Mounties on Sept. 26. The Maroon Raiders, who have produced solid seasons in recent years, are led by the likes of the dangerous Zoe Steck (9 goals, 4 assists) and Isabella Gonsiewski (7 goals) and playmaker Jennifer Callaghan (4 assists).

Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister

Montclair's Jillian Jennings (left) and teammates hope to be celebrating quite a few more goals during regular season plus in county and state tournaments.

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