MONTGOMERY: Cougars look to carry recent success into SCT

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By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
Two years ago, the Montgomery High boys’ soccer team made a magical run through the Somerset County Tournament to earn a share of the championship.
That team, which was made up heavy in seniors and experience, bears little resemblance to the current Montgomery team, which will open play in the Somerset County Tournament on Saturday when it plays as the host to Bound Brook.
“That team was older,” Montgomery coach Rickey Steeb said. “The team we have now is a good mix of upperclassmen and underclassmen. They are a hard-working and close group that is just trying get better every day. We have a couple of guys who were on that team from two years ago. Charlie (Rodgers) started on that team.”
Rodgers was a sophomore who played a key role on the 2015 team. This year he is a senior co-captain who would love to see this current group make a similar run through the SCT.
“I love this time of year,” said Rodgers, who leads the Cougars with three goals this season. “That is one of my goals, to play again in the final on Halloween. That was a great experience. I have been telling the other players about it. Everyone knows that was such a big game in our history as a team. Coach Steeb tells us that we can do it if we play the way we are capable of playing.”
Montgomery is the No. 6 seed in the county tournament and received a first-round bye. They will meet 11th-seeded Bound Brook on Saturday, and with a victory, would play at third-seeded Somerville.
If the Cougars needed a boost of confidence, they got it last week when they defeated Somerville, 3-1.
“It is a real exciting time,” said senior co-captain Trent Kettelkamp. “The (Bound Brook) game is on my birthday, so I am really pumped for that. We have been pretty good in our last four games. We’re 3-1 in our last four so hopefully we can keep that going. We lost to Hunterdon Central, who won the state Group 4 championship last year. So far this year we’re 4-0 in games we score. In all four of losses we haven’t scored. So that’s something we need to work out.”
The Cougars opened the season 1-3, but have bounced back to win three of their last four heading into Thursday’s scheduled game with Franklin. The  triumph over Somerville was a big one, as it showed the Cougars they can beat one of the top teams in the county.
“Once we figured out our game plan and made adjustments, the season started to flow better,” Rodgers said. “We got out the issues in the beginning of the seasons. We had lost to some good teams. But knowing we could beat Somerville, who is the three seed while we are six, shows we can beat anyone.”
Rodgers scored twice in the decision over Somerville. The three goals the team scored matched a season high.
“That was a great feeling and a boost of confidence,” Rodgers said. “We have had trouble scoring, so to get those goals and a victory against a team like that has boosted our confidence that we can play with any team.”
Added Steeb: “That was a big win for us. They had six wins and to be able to play with them gives us confidence to beat a really good team. We played Hunterdon Central right before that and lost, 1-0. We felt we played pretty well in that game.”
Montgomery has scored 10 goals in eight games, but has also been shut out four times. On the defensive end, the Cougars have allowed just 11 goals in the first eight games.
The Cougars are hoping the result over Somerville, as well as the recent string of success, is a sign they are playing their best at just the right time. Whether or not they can duplicate what the 2015 accomplished two years ago is still to be seen.
“That was a really special group,” Kettelkamp said. “They had a special chemistry and were very motivated. It’s hard to compare because that was such a dynamic group of seniors. They had been through so much as freshmen when a lot of them played varsity and didn’t win a game that year. Charlie and I hope to bring as much of that motivation as we can.
“It is a tough county. You have Pingry, Gill-St. Bernard’s, Bridgewater. We were able to beat the three seed so we feel we can beat any team. If we win on Saturday, we’ll see Somerville again.”
Both Rodgers and Kettelkamp are unsure of their soccer future beyond this year. So for now, they’re just focused on seeing this current Montgomery team make the most of the last month of the season.
“I knew going onto this year this was probably my last year playing organized soccer,” Kettelkamp said. “So I put a lot into it and tried to get the other guys to put a lot into it. I feel like I am playing at the highest level I have ever played at this season because of the work I put into preparing for the season.
“I was named a captain this year and I know that has a big responsibility. With the younger guys, you have to show them what it takes to win a county tournament and I think Charlie and I have done that.”
Added Steeb: “Charlie and Trent have done a great job as leaders of this team. They’ve really helped bring along the younger players and that has led to some success for us the last few games.”