By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Before the 2012 high school soccer season began, Kearny High School head boys’ soccer coach Bill Galka wondered how in the world he would replace the 27 goals that striker Junior Batista scored last season en route to the Kardinals capturing the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV state title.
All along, junior Andres Pesantez knew that he was ready to step up and be a dominant scoring threat.
“I put it in my head that this was my year,” Pesantez said. “Junior and I play different styles, but I knew that if I kept working hard, playing my game, that I could be a top scorer. I wanted to be one of the leading scorers.”
But no one could have imagined what Pesantez would provide for the Kardinals in the early stages of the new season.
In four games, all wins, Pesantez has found the net nine times. He had consecutive hat tricks in wins over Memorial and Ferris, had two more against Bayonne and scored the game-winner in a big match against former Watchung Conference foe Westfield last Saturday.
“I’m following every shot,” Pesantez said. “I’m going to the net and asking my teammates to pass me the ball. I’m looking for the shot more. So far, it’s been right there. I’m getting the ball and just scoring.”
For his efforts, Pesantez has been named The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week. He is the first honoree of the 2012-2013 scholastic sports season, culminating in the presentations of The Observer Male and Female Athletes of the Year, sometime in June, 2013.
Galka said that he’s not surprised by Pesantez’s goalscoring explosion.
“I’m really not stunned by it,” Galka said. “He’s always been a good player for us. He’s crafty and knows how to get to the ball. He raised some eyebrows last year with the way he played. Did I know he’d have nine goals? No, but I expected him to be a good scorer. I just didn’t expect this much so soon. I always knew he had great ability since he worked with us when he was a freshman.”
Galka likes Pesantez’s approach to the game.
“He’s quick around the ball,” Galka said. “Guys are getting him the ball in good spots, but a couple of his goals, he’s taken the ball around the keeper to get it in. He has a good shot, but now he’s finishing plays. He’s been opportunistic as well. He’s scoring in different situations.”
Pescantez arrived in the United States from his native Ecuador when he was 10 years old. Having already played soccer in Ecuador, he was ecstatic to learn that soccer was the key sport to play when he came to Kearny.
“It was like, ‘Wow,’ ” Pesantez said. “I was so happy. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what it was going to be like here. Soccer was the only sport I played in Ecuador. Soccer is my life. I was glad to have something to look forward to here.”
Galka loves the way that Pesantez has handled his early success.
“He’s happy and humble,” Galka said. “His confidence should be high, after back-toback hat tricks. And I think he’s only going to get better. He’s certainly already been very good, but we have a lot of games ahead and I think he’s going to improve. He’s been sharp in the early games, but he has to continue. He’s a soccer junkie who loves playing the game. We never have a problem with him.”
Galka said that there might only be one slight obstacle in the weeks to come.
“Now that he’s known a little and building a reputation, it brings attention from the other teams,” Galka said. “That’s the challenge for him. Teams are going to watch him more closely, double him and triple him. But it never hurts to get goals like this early. I don’t want to put pressure on him to try to score every goal. We’re not looking for him to do that. But he’s definitely stepped up and become a leader.
Added Galka, “He’s coming of age now. He’s taking that challenge and handling it well.”
Pesantez knows that the goals can’t keep coming at the pace they’ve arrived at in the early part of the season. The competition gets tougher. His name becomes more known.
“Right now, I’m really happy with the way I’m playing,” Pesantez said. “I know it’s not going to happen every time. I’ve been thinking about what I have to do. I had about three friends who came up to me and said, `Wow, people are now going to know who you are.’ I knew that there were people who didn’t know me. They will now and I’m ready for that. I just want to keep it going.”
In any respect, it’s a historic beginning for a humble kid who just loves soccer and is now getting a chance to shine in the spotlight.