The team that had defended the top spot in the NJ.com Top 10 all season survived its latest challenge.
The Montgomery women’s fencing team, which has retained the No. 1 ranking since preseason, defeated No. 6 Columbia, 19-8, in the NJSIAA Tag Team Tournament Championship Wednesday night at Morris Hills High in Rockaway.
“If you look at the pace of our other meetings, that’s about where we stall,” Montgomery head coach Joseph Zanko III said. “Everyone did what they did in a normal meeting. Even if it was states, we kept this same rhythm. That’s what makes it a great team. »
The top seed had advanced to the final with a 19-8 win over upstart Pingry, who was unseeded and seeded fourth. Montgomery had also beaten ninth seed West Windsor-Plainsboro South, 17-10, in the quarterfinals after opening the state tournament with a 16-11 win over 16th seed Newark Academy.
“We felt like we were getting stronger and stronger,” Joanna Passalaris said. “Everyone really wanted to win this one after losing two years ago. We were able to do that. »
Columbia, which reached the final after being seeded 10th, upset second-seeded and No. 5 Morris Hills 15-12 in the quarterfinals before eliminating sixth-seeded and No. 5 McNair. ° 7, 15-12, in the semi-finals.
“Last year was a little disappointing,” said Columbia head coach Arthur Paulina. “Even coming second is great. Just to be here with all the fans cheering. It’s great for the parents. It’s great for the kids to be back here this year. Montgomery is a great program It’s a pleasure to close them in. They have a great team and they were better than us tonight.
His first-round win came against seventh-seeded and No.8 Bergen Tech, 14-13.
Montgomery took the early lead, earning seven of a possible nine points in the first round. It all started with a perfect 3-0 record from the saber team.
Passalaris, Dina Dank and Anahat Bawa gave the Cougars a spark early on and they were able to continue throughout the game.
“You’re 3-0 in the first three fights, the other team is already in the hole,” Zanko said. “Having this great start, especially in the high school fencing format, these three fights really energize us and put us in a good position.”
Dank finished with three wins on the night with swords Amy Mao and Sharika Gajjala. In epee, the Cougars were 8-1 that night and it really showed the depth of the team.
“Nobody ever thinks we have a guaranteed win,” Passalaris said. “We always applaud every contact. Even when we’re down, we know we can come back and do it.
Columbia won the foil 5-4 led by Maia Sincler and Emily Katoni who finished with multiple wins. Montgomery took the win early in the third round, but Columbia kept fighting. It is a program that has been able to find consistent success.
The Cougars enter next season on the strength of a long run in the Sweet 16 tournament. Despite the setbacks, the future continues to look bright.
“This program has been around for a while and we’re close to the top,” Paulina said. “One way to do that is to build numbers. Many of our girls came from other sports. Our program has grown and it is something to add to the curriculum vitae of these children.
Montgomery put it all together and continued to go from strength to strength as the season progressed. After narrowly missing out in 2020 in the National Finals, the Cougars had a chip on their shoulder heading into Wednesday night.
The Cougars won their first state title since 2016 and reached the pinnacle of women’s fencing.
“We lost to Ridge two years ago and I’m sure that was on their minds,” Zanko said. “The general mood that set in today corrected the wrong. They closed like they had a chip on their shoulder and showed why they were the best.
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