Montclair High School pitcher Anthony Anzaldi and swimmer Elizabeth Habjan were preparing for their first seasons as high school athletes when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The pandemic canceled all sports at Montclair High School in the spring of 2020. Before they could even begin, their high school athletic careers were disrupted.
At the height of COVID, a series of changing restrictions were imposed on high school athletes while new rules around public gatherings and mask-wearing were implemented.
Fall sports athletes, like footballers Sonia Neighbors and Stella Tapia, didn’t miss a full season, but had to adapt to completely unexpected conditions.
Along with the pandemic, these athletes have had to deal with injuries, copious amounts of homework and trying to maintain a social life. Yet they persevered through all the challenges thrown at them.
National Signing Day, which was November 9, was a public opportunity to highlight their accomplishments and for them to announce where they will be pursuing their academic and athletic pursuits next year. The celebration took place in the multi-purpose hall of the Aubrey Lewis Sports Complex.
Seven student-athletes signed their letters of intent at the event, led by Anzaldi, and three others also signed letters but did not attend the festivities.
Anzaldi, who was a first-team All Super Essex Conference baseball pitcher, will stay local and attend the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark.
Habjan, who was an All Super Essex Conference swimmer in the backstroke and relays last season, is heading south to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
The Constabulary rowing team had a trio of seniors who will take their college paddles to Maxine Guerra, Bella Moreno and Alexander Stamas, heading to Miami University, Duke University and Northeastern University respectively. .
In Neighbors, Montclair had one of Essex County’s top scorers. She was named to the All SEC first team after tallying 22 goals last fall and will attend the University of Miami. For Tapia, it was a tough 2022 season as she was sidelined with an ACL injury, but she helped head coach Ashley Hammond with practice as Montclair went 15-2-1. Tapia is heading west and will play in the Big Ten at the University of Michigan.
Three lacrosse players signed letters of intent but did not attend signing day. From the women’s team, Megan Previdi, who won the All SEC All-American second team last season, will travel to Buffalo and Canisius College. On the boys’ side, Ian Muchineuta stays local, in Staten Island at Wagner College, while Luca Ward travels to Worcester, Massachusetts, and the College of Holy Cross. Last season, Muchineuta was an All-SEC All-American First Team member, and Ward earned an All-SEC honorable mention while leading the Mounties in goals with 34.
The seven athletes present met a room full of joyful supporters. Family, friends, teammates, coaches and school administrators came to pay tribute to the stars of the sports programs at Montclair High School.
Before the signatures, there were the speeches. Baseball coach Ron Gavazzi praised the commitment and determination of all the athletes. He highlighted the lone baseball player, Anzaldi. “If you haven’t seen him pitch yet, come out this spring, you won’t be disappointed,” Gavazzi said.
Anzaldi smiled and used his hands to cover his face.
Habjan broke individual school grades and was part of a relay team that set Essex County and school records. “The past two years have been full of excitement,” said Montclair swimming head coach Ed Koenigsfest, whose women’s teams have won the last two Essex County team titles.
Montclair High School Principal Jeffrey Freeman’s speech was short but powerful. “I hope you continue to make us proud,” Freeman said. “The pride of the gendarmes is our heritage.
After the principal’s speech, the athletes officially signed their letters of intent. By signing, each athlete personally thanked the people who helped them, including coaches, parents, friends and even doctors who were listed as invaluable people for their success.
Once the documents were signed, the athletes had the chance to take photos with their friends and family. The neighbors and Tapia posed together as members of the football team. Guerra, Moreno and Stamas took a photo together representing the crew team.
“We’ve gone too far,” laughed Jose Tapia, Stella’s father, as the family posed for a photo. Jose and his wife, Denise, brought balloons with the University of Michigan logo. Several students wore Michigan women’s soccer team apparel to show their support.
Other students made posters announcing the success of their friends. The college name and logo were drawn on the same board; the posters were lifted and scrolled as the athletes walked around the hall.
National Football and Basketball Signing Day will be held on February 1 and April 12, 2023, respectively.
Montclair High School Students Sign National Letters of Intent
Sonia Neighbors – University of Miami
Stella Tapia – University of Michigan
Luca Ward – Holy Cross
Ian Muchineuta – Wagner College
Megan Previdi – Canisius College
Anthony Anzaldi – NJIT
Maxine Guerra – University of Miami
Bella Moreno – Duke University
Alexander Stamas – Northeastern University
Elizabeth Habjan – United States Naval Academy