A season full of magic.
2022 was a remarkable year for the Montclair State University women’s soccer team and that’s putting it mildly.
The Red Hawks finished the season going 17-3-1 overall and accomplished many amazing achievements throughout the season like winning an NCAA Tournament game or starting off 11-0, but none of these things are what this team or the people who watched closely will truly remember.
It was a team that formed an unbreakable bond and you could see it from the outside. Everyone bought in completely and star junior midfielder Aileen Cahill believes the camaraderie that was formed is what made the season special.
“I think just how much we were all into it and loved it and stuff,” Cahill said. “Every practice, every game, everybody on the team was just excited and happy to be there. So I think it was just good camaraderie this season, that made it the best.”
Individually, it was also a special season for Cahill as she was the conductor of the state train’s attack. The junior scored 16 goals and had nine assists to go along with it, which led the team in both categories.
Her 16 goals ranked first in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) and she was named a Second Team All-American by the United Soccer Coaches Association.
It’s the first time since current assistant coach Erin Sullivan notched the third team as a defender in 2016 and it makes Cahill just the sixth player in program history to earn All-American status by a coaches association.
Although Cahill was a huge piece in this Montclair State attack, it wasn’t only her. Whether it was freshman forward Kylie Prendergast blazing past defenders and finding openings in the box or players like senior midfielder/forward Kimberly Campbell and junior forward Lauren Ernst getting in behind opposing defenders, the Red Hawks’ attack was one of the best in all of division three.
Everywhere you looked the Red Hawks were dangerous. Sometimes it was the defense that showed up in big spots as they were able to get 11 clean sheets on the season.
Freshman defender Ashley DeFrancesco, who was just named First Team All-Region, broke into the team from the beginning but credited her teammates for helping her rise to the challenge.
“It’s a really fun group,” DeFrancesco said. “There’s so much experience on the back line and they are really good role models and when you’re playing with great players then it makes you rise up to the challenge.”
It was a season where even veteran head coach Patrick Naughter was at a loss for words numerous times and the game against Ursinus College early in the year was probably the biggest example of that for him.
“There were probably four or five times where I was completely at a loss for words,” Naughter said. “And I can remember us beating Ursinus and down one nothing it seemed like the whole day and [senior midfielder Kerri Driscoll] hits a great goal. And then we get a scramble and [Campbell] finishes it and then [senior goalkeeper Haley Martin] makes a save at the buzzer. That’s one of the most improbable wins we’ve ever had since I’ve been here. And I could just remember looking at these guys, and they’re looking at me and I’m like, I don’t know what’s happening, like there’s magic in the air, and let’s just enjoy it.”
Early on in the season, Naughter and the rest of the coaching staff could feel something different in the air with this bunch. During a four-game stretch in September, the Red Hawks mounted late come-from-behind victories against Endicott College, Vassar College, Ursinus, and DeSales University which really sparked the momentum for the season.
“It was almost like we were in on a secret,” Naughter said. “Those early moments where it was like, man, something’s happening here.”
It seemed like each week, Montclair State was doing something extraordinary on the pitch and even with Naughter’s experience, he never saw anything quite like it.
“13th year, having played my whole life and watching every day, you feel like you’ve seen it all,” Naughter said. “And then with this group, it was like every week it was ‘What? What just happened? What did we just do?’ It was insane.”
Naughter asked a lot of his team in terms of how he wanted them to play tactically and he made it clear that it wasn’t going to be easy. According to Naughter, this group’s work ethic is what sets them apart.
“The style can work if 99 things go right and the biggest one is you have kids who just want to outwork everybody every day,” Naughter said. “That’s rare, that’s super rare but this group had it and that’s why for me this is going to be the group that I’m going to remember forever.”
Most teams are defined by their accomplishments but this year’s Red Hawks are much more than that. The relationships and moments that were shared among the group are worth more than anything that can be won and they will cherish it all forever.
And with many key players returning, the Montclair State women’s soccer team will look to do it all again next season.