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MKA soccer coach Rob Leather (center) is proud of his two college-bound seniors John Baney (Dickinson) and Jack Miller (Oberlin, right) as Cougars program is on the rise again in Non-Public B. (Sideline Chatter photo)

Dickinson College-bound John Baney was one of the top goalkeepers in the SEC while leading the MKA soccer side. (Photo by Gene Nann-nannphoto)

College Bound MKA Seniors
Set The Tone For Youthful Side
By Steve Tober
For sidelinechatter.com

MONTCLAIR- As National Signing Day came and went on Feb. 1st when much was made of the major college football commits that were formalized plus a few of the Division I soccer recruits such as Seton Hall Prep’s Mason Toye (Indiana) were also highlighted, there were also those important program-branding Division III commitments announced and commemorated, including two key senior leaders for the Montclair Kimberley Academy soccer program which thanks in part to its departing pair of senior co-captains appears back on track for a return to prominence in Non-Public B.

The Cougars’ standout goalkeeper and two-year co-captain John Baney (Dickinson College) and steady center back and co-captain Jack Miller (Oberlin) were two trailblazers in many ways for an otherwise youthful MKA soccer side which is on the way up after a solid 2016 season in which it finished 12-7-1 and reached the Non-Public, North B state sectional final before being edged by Hudson Catholic, 1-0.

MKA will move up back up to the Super Essex Conference’s top division, the American next fall after competing in the Liberty Division last season when it stayed neck and neck with eventual champion Millburn for most of the season in terms of competing for the division title.

“We lose two big pieces in the back in John and Jack, who were the heart and soul of the team as senior captains, but virtually everyone else is coming back and it will be my first year with a senior-heavy team which should be interesting to see how that translates,” said head coach Rob Leather, who will begin his fourth season at the helm of Cougar soccer fortunes in 2017. “I think that Dickinson and Oberlin will be great fits for both of them; they’ll have a great experience in college and also be able to compete at that level.

“They were both awesome for us the last two years and were terrific captains together this past fall, while John was also our captain as a junior. Now, they will look to have a good spring for their club teams and then get ready to move on to college, which will be great to see.”

MKA soccer has progressed the past three seasons with Baney, a 3-year starter, emerging as one of the top goalkeepers in the SEC, while Miller solidified the up-the-middle defense at center back in both 2015 and ’16.

The senior pair were transfers from Ridgewood High School with Baney coming into ‘Cougarville’ as a sophomore and Miller as a junior.

“Coming to MKA has been a tremendous experience and we really enjoyed helping to lead a talented, young squad,” said Baney. “I thought we had a strong season last fall and with such a strong, core group coming back next fall it will be great to see how they continue to do.

“Dickinson is a school that feels like a good fit academically with all the possibilities in Liberal Arts, and soccer-wise they compete well in the Centennial Conference every year looking to take home the trophy.”

The Red Devils, under the guidance of coach Brian Redding, finished 8-8-2 last fall and 5-3-1 in the Centennial Conference.

Among the key performers due back in the fall for the Cougars are current juniors Nico Espinosa-Dice (center back) Jason Gertz (left back) and freshman Jon Park (right back) on defense; juniors Ahmed Abukwaik and Connor Daly (center midfield) and Greg Jenkins (right midfield) and sophomores Seth Kaplan and Dylan Ladda (forwards).

Miller first learned about Oberlin from former MKA schoolmate Erik Zeug, a fine Cougar football quarterback and lacrosse standout who now plays the lax sport at the Ohio-based college.

“I visited the campus and fell in love with the school,” said the MKA senior center back. “They are looking for an athletic right back since they just lost a senior at that position and I feel I can compete for a starting job next fall.”

Oberlin is coming off a terrific 2016 season in which the Yeomen of coach Blake New finished 15-4-1 overall and 7-2 in the North Coast Athletic Conference, a loop won by Kenyon College.

For Leather, who watched his young Cougars progress from 5-14-1 in 2014 to 5-11-2 in ’15 and then 12-7-2 this past fall, the rise of the MKA program back up to where it feels it should be in Non-Public B is a great position to now be in, boosted in that ascension by its veteran leaders.

“John and Jack were fantastic senior leaders and now it’s up to the younger guys, including several current juniors to step up this fall,” said the MKA head mentor. “We played everyone tight last fall, including Millburn (1-0 loss) and (Newark) East Side (2-0 setback) and hopefully we can be even more competitive next season.

“It’s all about getting ready for the post season and then doing well in the states for us and, hopefully, we can get back to a North B final and then advance to the group state championship game in November.”

COUGAR CLIPPINGS- MKA has won three Non-Public B boys soccer state championships (2006, 2011 and 2012) and also reached the ‘B’ final in 2013 where it lost to Gill St. Bernard’s in then head coach Jordan Raper’s final season at the helm. Raper, who was 52-12-4 his final three seasons of a 6-year reign, is now Leather’s assistant coach with the Cougar boys after working as an assistant with the MKA girls squad in 2014 and 2015…Two former Cougars from the 2014 team, Wesley Wade (Virginia) and Malcolm Dixon (University of Portland) are now in the college ranks…The starting goalkeeper from the 2011 and ’12 state champs, Matt Lane, is an attackman for the Syracuse lacrosse team, while Miles Hackett, a star forward from those Cougar Non-Public B title-winning soccer sides, has enjoyed a fine college run with the men’s soccer team at Rutgers University.

Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister

Head Coach Rob Leather has helped resurrect MKA soccer program after a couple of sub-.500 seasons. (Photo by Gene Nann-nannphoto)

MKA college commits Jack Miller (left) and John Baney join coach Rob Leather and Athletic Director Todd Smith (right) in enjoying moment surrounding recent commitments. (Sideline Chatter photo)

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