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Montclair High School's outstanding pitcher Anthony Anzaldi, seen with his Mountie co-head coaches Ron Gavazzi and Anthony Genchi, signed with NJIT on National Signing Day (Nov. 9th ), while the school's superb soccer player Sonia Neighbors made her commitment official to continue her playing career at the University of Miami. It was a big signing day at both Montclair and nearby MKA with a number of DI athletes making it all official. (photos courtesy of Ron Gavazzi & Sonia Neighbors family)

National Signing Day Big One
    For Montclair & MKA Seniors   

By Steve Tober

MONTCLAIR- The NCAA’s National Signing Day provides big moments for high school athletes and their communities around the country and Montclair is one of those towns where the recent (Nov. 9th) special occasion for scholastic seniors to officially commit to their Division I schools was certainly a noteworthy occasion in a number of sports.

Montclair High had their signings in the multipurpose room inside the Fuzzy Furlong fieldhouse which is part of the Aubrey Lewis Sports complex at Woodman Field, while Montclair Kimberley Academy’s Fairleigh Dickinson gymnasium at the upper school campus was adorned with balloons and colors of a number of colleges where Cougars are headed to compete at the D1 level.

“Montclair High consistently has Division I athletes coming from all of our sports programs,” said MHS co-head baseball coach Ron Gavazzi. “It really is remarkable!”

Gavazzi and fellow co-coach Anthony Genchi were on hand to witness the signing of their talented senior left-hander Anthony Anzaldi who will pitch next at the Division I level for New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) which is a member of the America East Conference.

MKA has its own annual noteworthy occasion for seniors finalizing the paperwork before getting ready to move on to high-level college programs.

“To have six D1 athletes like we do today is just awesome,” said MKA head girls soccer coach Jordan Raper, who watched as two of his senior standouts, Bella Douglas (Boston College) and Sofia Vinasco (Coastal Carolina), signed with their respective schools. “We might be a small school, but the talent here is at a high level and we’re always excited to see our seniors move on to top programs around the country.”

One of the state’s best volleyball players, Samiyah Abdur-Rahim, a senior leader with the Cougar spikers, is headed to play big-time college volleyball at Texas Christian University.

“I wanted to play at the highest level and also go to a college with great education opportunities,” said MKA’s 6-foot-2 outside hitter and all-around talent. “My brother (Jabri) is playing basketball at the University of Georgia so my parents (former NBA player Shareef Abdur-Rahim and mom DeeDee) will be traveling a lot to see us both play, but they love it.”

In addition to Anzaldi, Montclair High’s Division I commits include girls soccer standouts Sonia Neighbors (University of Miami) and Stella Tapia (Michigan); star swimmer Ela Habjan (U.S. Naval Academy), lacrosse players Luca Ward (Holy Cross), Ian Muchineuta (Wagner College) and Megan Previdi (Canisius) and crew team members Maxine Guerra (Miaimi) and Bella Moreno (Duke).

MKA’s impressive group gathered in the upper school gym for the Nov. 9th signing day was comprised of Douglas, Vinasco, Abdur-Rahim, tennis standout Hanna Ganchi (Lafayette), top epee fencer Alanna Clayton (Wagner) and distance swimming star Lindsay Driever (Lafayette).

Montclair High’s Anzaldi, who was Sideline Chatter’s runner-up as Essex County Pitcher of the Year in 2022, has been an attractive prospect for some time now as he has emerged as one of the state’s very best southpaws on the diamond.  

“Anthony has been on the many colleges' radar since his sensational sophomore season in 2021. (8-0 mound record),” said Gavazzi. “He is a member of Wladyka Baseball, which is a premier organization. Being on the showcase tour and Jim Wladyka's connections helped Anthony.  NJIT saw him pitch in the Garden State Underclassman All Star games where he threw two very impressive innings against the top competition in the state.  

“I think Anthony fits well at NJIT.  As a left hander, it creates opportunity based on their current roster.  The location is a plus so his family can watch him pitch.  The academics are top notch, which is most important, as Anthony is an excellent student.  The school recognized both his academic and athletic abilities.    

“Anthony is a throwback type kid.  He is very well-brought-up by his parents.  It has been an absolute pleasure to coach him.  His work ethic is second to none.  He takes arm care very seriously.  He does extra preventative exercises consisting of extensive band work.  Mechanically, he is always looking for improvement.  He has been involved with the Wladyka pitching program since middle school. He lives in the weightroom.  His strength training has gotten more intense through the years.  Anthony's preparation for starts is awesome to watch.  He knows the lineups he is competing against.  

“We have been fortunate to have some really good pitchers through the years.  Also, we have been blessed with some great lefties.  Anthony is certainly up there in regard to overall performance.  He is a true ace.  Just as an overall competitor, he is no different than any of the great pitchers we have seen through the years. 

“Our program is very happy for Anthony.  He is a great example for our younger players.”

The Mounties’ Neighbors, who is one of the state’s top forwards, had a superb senior season for the Super Essex Conference-American Division champion MHS booters (15-2-1) scoring 22 goals and adding 11 assists.

“Sonia is a special player,” said MHS head coach Ashley Hammond.

"Throughout the years we heard that the scouting report was stop her left foot, so she stepped up and cracked one right footed.

“She is so gifted with either foot and her cut moves are so hard to counter.

“Trust me, she will be sticking defenders on their rear ends (at Miami) just like she has done at Montclair High.”

The Mounties’ Habjan is certainly another special student-athlete as she will embark on her own unique college path while also serving her country while she is educated at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

During her incredible high school swimming career she has earned two Cullen Jones Awards as the top swimmer in the Essex County/SEC Championship meet at NJIT, sharing the honor with Mountie teammate Devon Muldoon as a freshman and then winning the award outright last January among all female competitors when she was part of four victorious events in leading the Mountie girls to a second straight county/conference team championship.

Her meet record 55.25 in the 100-backstroke broke her own previous meet record set in 2020.

MKA’s Douglas follows in the footsteps of another Cougar great, Olivia Vaughn, who went from a storied career at the Montclair private school to also shining at Boston College.

“"I had three finalists (Georgetown, Indiana and BC) as far as colleges I was considering, and then I visited BC and knew right away it was the place for me," said Douglas. "During the 4-hour drive home I couldn't wait to text the coach (Jason Lowe) to let him know I had made my decision and was coming to BC."

Douglas suffered a knee injury this fall which prematurely ended her high school season in late September, but she still finished with 7 goals on the season. She scored 12 goals as a junior and 26 as a sophomore for the Cougars. Douglas, who can play virtually anywhere on the field, figures to be an outside back or outside midfielder at BC.

"I wanted to go to a college that was secluded, yet close to a city and soccer-wise I know there will be tough competition with a ton of really good girls on the team,” continued the MKA senior captain and Montclair resident. “I look forward to the challenges ahead at BC.”   

All told, it was a memorable signing day at both MHS and MKA as top seniors prepare for the next phase of their educational and athletic experiences.

“I think it’s great to just enjoy how special this occasion is for the senior athletes,” said MKA Athletic Director Todd Smith. “And, they can savor the moment with their coaches, family and friends on hand which just adds to a tremendous signing day atmosphere!”   

Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister                 

MKA's Boston College-bound soccer star Bella Douglas, who is pictured with her family, and the future TCU women's volleyball player Samiyah Abdur-Rahim, shown with many of her Cougar teammates and friends, were among those signing with Division I schools on the recent National Signing Day at upper school. (SC photo and courtesy of MKA Athletics)

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