Every athlete dreams of playing on the biggest stages, in the biggest stadiums, under the brightest lights. Both Montclair State University soccer teams lived out that dream on Wednesday as they faced off against William Paterson University under the bright lights of Red Bull Arena.
The women’s teams started the doubleheader as they kicked off at 4:15 p.m. It was clear that both teams felt the weight of playing in one of the largest soccer-specific stadiums in the country.
“Definitely [felt nervous],” graduate student Kimberly Campbell said. “It’s an opportunity. Pros play here. Players we watched since we were five have played at this stadium. There were nerves but good nerves, not nerves that were going to hinder us. I feel like the nerves pushed everyone and made everyone play hard.”
Montclair State began the game well, maintaining possession of the ball and firing shots on goal. The Red Hawks did not find a breakthrough until standout performer Emmi DeNovellis won the ball off a defender and unleashed a gorgeous shot that flew over the keeper and found the far side netting.
DeNovellis stood out all game. Her goal opened up the game for the Red Hawks, and her defensive effort helped maintain a clean sheet. Head Coach Pat Naughter spoke on her incredible performance.
“[Emmi’s] been awesome all year,” Naughter said. “Emmi’s been one of our most consistent performers. She’s been great, she gets our offense going, and she chips in with goals. She scored the first goal of the year for us. She’s a weapon, and I thought Emmi was excellent tonight.”
In the second half, Montclair State would find the back of the net again after midfielder Meghan O’Callahan dribbled past a defender and played a ball into the box. Forward Gianna Curci fired a weak shot that took a bounce in front of the keeper and found the back of the net putting the Red Hawks up 2-0.
The third and final Montclair State goal would come with only four minutes left in the game. Forward Kylie Pendergast put a defender on skates and served a smooth cross into the box that was then headed by senior midfielder Aileen Cahill over the keeper to give the Red Hawks a three-goal advantage.
The final score was 3-0 in favor of the Red Hawks. While earning a win was incredible, the experience and opportunity to play in that stadium was priceless.
“It is really fun for everyone,” Campbell said. “Everyone got on the field which was something that we were really excited to happen. For me, it’s a great experience, this is my last year. To be able to have the opportunity to play at a pro arena like Red Bull arena is really once in a lifetime. It’s something that everyone will cherish for a long time.”
After an impressive performance by the women’s team, the men’s team looked to not be outdone.
Montclair State came out extremely strong scoring three goals in the first half. The first of which came from junior midfielder Owen Murphy, who unleashed a powerful shot from the top of the box that found the far back corner of the net. After scoring, Murphy instantly ran over to a large group of fans to celebrate.
Murphy’s goal would open up the scoring as just four minutes later, senior midfielder Osbin Mendez played a beautiful ball to forward Amer Lukovic in the box who immediately tucked a shot into the far corner of the goal, putting the Red Hawks up 2-0.
The third and final first-half goal would come with just 17 seconds on the clock. After receiving the ball in the box, Lukovic laid the ball off for forward Andre Shelton who fired a low-driven shot past the keeper that found the far side netting, capping off an incredible half and putting Montclair State’s advantage to three.
A large reason for Montclair State’s dominant first half was the incredible work done by the midfield. The unit chipped in offensively, scoring goals and assisting others. Defensively they won second balls and alleviated pressure on the defensive end.
“The midfield is the engine, they’re the engine and the workhorses of the team,” Tumelty said. “I think there’s a few guys that go in and do a good job. You have Murph, Gene, Ozzie, and Bruno who comes in at times so it’s a good little mixture. They all have different things they bring to the table. In different games, we can use different guys in different ways.”
The second half’s lone goal would come after Lukovic was brought down in the box leading to a Montclair State penalty. Lukovic would take the penalty himself and blast a shot past the keeper who couldn’t get to the ball quick enough. Lukovic’s second goal of the game, and 25th of the season, made the score 4-0.
Montclair State would end the game winning by a comfortable margin of 4-0. According to junior defender Ian Chesney, it was a great experience but also a privilege.
“It’s a privilege,” Chesney said. “I thank all the people who work at Red Bull who gave us this opportunity. Not many teams get to come here and experience this with the Locker room and the field, so it’s awesome and I appreciate the Red Bulls for allowing us to do this.”
After winning by a combined score of 7-0, both Montclair State teams left Red Bull Arena with their heads held high. While the score lines live on in the history books, the memories are truly what last forever.