MONTGOMERY: Cougars hope for title run

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By Bob Nuse
The Montgomery High boys soccer team came into the season needing to replace several key parts to the team that went to the Somerset County Tournament final and earned a share of the county crown.
But the Cougars return enough ingredients from that team to have the same lofty goals of reaching the SCT final again this year. Montgomery, the No. 5 seed, advanced to the quarterfinals of the SCT with an 8-1 win over Franklin and will play at fourth-seeded Bernards this Saturday for a spot in the semifinals.
“The boys working really hard,” said Montgomery coach Rickey Steeb, whose team took an 8-3 record into Thursday’s schedule game with Bridgewater. “We’re trying to get healthy. We haven’t had a full squad since the first game of the season. We started out playing three games a week and now we’re getting some breaks. It has helped us that we have some great leaders with Rory Kemmerer, Dan Choi, Christian Espana and all the upperclassmen.
“We lost 12 boys who played from last year, but we returned 12 and we have 12 additions. A lot of the younger players are stepping up into key roles.”
With a solid mix of strong upperclassmen and some talented newcomers, the Cougars are hoping to be playing their best soccer through the rest of this month. The SCT game against Bernards will be a challenge they are looking forward to.
“Right now we’re just getting ready for Bernards,” said Choi, who starts at outside back for the Cougars. “Hopefully we can play well and get back to the finals. Everyone, including myself, who was on the team last year wants to play in a game with that atmosphere again.”
Choi was a key part of last year’s success and now as a co-captain has a bigger role this season. Being a captain for the Cougars is a role he has embraced.
“It is always great to step into a leadership role,” Choi said. “I feel like all the seniors have stepped in and done a great job. We lost a lot from last year’s team but we have a lot of experience.
“Stepping into a captain role, I like I have a lot more influence taking charge and pushing the team to play our best our best soccer.”
The Cougars are hopeful that as the tournament season kicks into full gear they are playing at their highest level. The defense has come together after making some early adjustments.
“Our defense took a bit of time to get organized,” Choi said. “We lost two huge center backs who graduated. It took a bit of time but now we are really adjusting and hitting our stride.”
Now in his third season with the varsity, Choi hopes this final season is a successful one.
“I have definitely gotten a lot more confident thanks to teammates and coaches,” Choi said. “I have seen myself grow as a player. I’ve seen everyone grow as we have gotten older. I am pretty proud to see what we have done as a program. We like to think that the mentality of the program has changed and we hope it will continue to be a top program.”
In the win over Franklin, Kemmerer scored four goals and assisted on two others. Espana scored twice and added four assists. Both players have 12 goals this season for the Cougars, who have shown plenty of versatility on offense.
“It depends on the game for us,” Steeb said. “Rory is a household name, so if teams try to double him he’ll spread the ball out a little more. He is unselfish in front of the goal and is pretty tough around the goal. We have had a lot of guys step up and score goals. They have been coming from everywhere.” 