Facebook ShareTwitter ShareBy Brian Deakyne | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
They filled up the spectator benches next to the turf. They stood along the fence or found a place to sit on the grassy hill next to the field hoping to get a glimpse of Micaah Garnette’s last high school soccer game.
Because every time Garnette stepped on the field for Gill St. Bernard’s, something special was bound to happen.
Garnette didn’t disappoint in that game, now nearly three weeks old. He broke free from the defender that was man-marking him and ripped in a 25-yard banger that tucked under the crossbar in the final minute of the first half to give Gill St. Bernard’s a critical two-goal lead in a championship game.
Garnette’s numbers speak for themselves: he had 21 goals and 14 assists in just 14 games played this season as Gill St. Bernard’s finished as the No. 1-ranked team in New Jersey. He had 30 goals as a junior last season.
Those on the outside saw the culmination of hard work, skill and relentless determination. Those on the inside saw so much more.
“To appreciate Micaah Garnette, you have to look beyond that,” veteran Gill St. Bernard’s coach Tony Bednarsky said. “Beyond his stats, he is a complete player. He works hard, he checks back defensively, he’s as good a provider and an assist guy as he is a scorer, he’s very coachable and very encouraging to the other players. He’s the consummate team player. And then taking all that aside, he’s even more impressive off the field than he is on the field. His character, his integrity, he’s an all-around great kid.”
Garnette is NJ.com’s boys soccer Player of the Year for 2020.
“The Player of the Year comes with the team,” Garnette said. “I was very successful in knowing that it wasn’t just me, I had other pieces to the puzzle. And it’s not just 11 pieces — it’s the people behind the team that you don’t see, the athletic director, the athletic trainer, the coaching staff, the players that came off the bench. I think the big picture was to just win anything and everything that we could. Player of the Year, it’s a great achievement to have but it comes along with everything that we tried to complete.”
Garnette displayed finishing quality the past two seasons that would rival any of N.J.’s great strikers of the past. Teams threw detailed and varying man-markings and double-teams at him, but he still managed to produce.
And he didn’t just produce against anybody. He produced against the best.
This season, Garnette scored twice in a 2-1 road win at Pingry early in the season. He scored twice in a 2-1 road win over Hunterdon Central late in the season. He scored a key goal that helped Gill St. Bernard’s climb out of a three-goal deficit against unbeaten Monroe in an eventual 3-3 draw.
In the Central West, Non-Public final — a game between the top two-ranked teams in N.J. — Garnette had a highlight-reel goal and an assist to fuel a 3-2 win over Pingry.
“I’ve always liked the pressure situations if you call it that,” Garnette said. “The bigger games or the tougher opponents, I’ve always enjoyed playing under the pressure. After last season I already knew I would be man-marked and double-teamed this year. I think my teammates really helped me cope with that. If you look at the tape from the games, I wasn’t really staying in the nine position. I was able to roam to the wing with Danny Spataro, Gavin Scavino or Jordan Canica and that really helped take the pressure off.”
Garnette, an All-State striker for the second straight year, started immediately at Gill St. Bernard’s after transferring from Sayreville after his freshman year. In three seasons, he tallied 62 goals and 30 assists. He won back-to-back Non-Public B titles in 2018 and 2019 and a sectional title in a shortened season in 2020. He helped Gill St. Bernard’s to its first-ever Somerset County Tournament championship last October.
His untouchable legacy will stand forever at Gill St. Bernard’s
“Micaah is one of these generational players that comes around,” Bednarsky said. “He’s one of the top kids to ever play in Somerset County. Pingry had Andrew Lewis (in 1993). Bridgewater had Matt Kassel (in 2008). What these kids have in common is that they want on to play, not only in college, but the level after that. I think Micaah is driven to do that, too.”
Garnette’s future plans aren’t locked in. He hasn’t committed to playing soccer collegiately yet and with COVID-19 restrictions hamstringing coaches’ ability to recruit, everything is on the table.
But a pandemic won’t stop his long-term goals — just like it didn’t stop his short-term goals in 2020.
“I have professional aspirations that I hope to achieve in the future,” he said. “Individual accolades are great, but it was a team-first mentality and that’s what really helped me. In the future, I hope to get more accolades. I hope the next time I hear Player of the Year, it will be for the best player in the world.
“I don’t keep my mind closed to any options. Things can change at any time, especially this year with the COVID-19 restrictions and college recruiting hasn’t been as easy. We’ll see what happens with college, we don’t know what’s going to happen with that yet. My main goal and my top dreams since I was a child is to not only be professional in Europe but to try to become the best player in the world someday.”