By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Joanna Seca has been playing soccer in North Arlington since she was five years old.
It didn’t take long for others to notice that Seca was a player of immense talents, as she was scooped up from the regular North Arlington Recreation program to play at higher levels, like Kearny Thistle and even more impressively, the Players Development Academy (PDA) of Zarepath, N.J., an organization for strictly the elite players in the state.
When it came time for Seca to enter North Arlington High School, she elected to continue to play for PDA, which meant she could not play for the Vikings.
“I was a little upset and disappointed,” Seca said. “Some of my friends on the team asked me not to play PDA, but it was too much to try to do both. I was looking forward to playing at North Arlington, but it was my first year with PDA, so I didn’t want to upset that.”
North Arlington veteran head girls’ soccer coach Sharon O’Brien Romer knew of Seca, because of some afterschool counseling programs. But O’Brien Romer didn’t know how good of a player Seca truly was.
“I knew that she was a nice girl who played club soccer for a long time,” O’Brien Romer said.
O’Brien Romer didn’t make any attempt to convince Seca to play for the Vikings. It’s not something the coach feels comfortable doing. If Seca wanted to play varsity, she could sign up and come to practice like everyone else.
And that is what exactly took place last spring.
“I just signed up to play,” Seca said. “I knew a lot of the girls on the team from playing recreation and travel soccer.”
During summer workouts, O’Brien Romer saw almost immediately that Seca would make a positive impact on her team.
“I knew right away that she could handle the challenge,” O’Brien Romer said. “I saw that there was a lot of potential there.”
O’Brien Romer inserted the sophomore at center midfield. There wasn’t exactly instant success.
“I think it took her a little bit of time to get accustomed to everything,” O’Brien Romer said. “She had a lot of good shots and was making good plays, but she just wasn’t scoring.”
“I definitely had to step up my game,” Seca said. “Playing in high school was much more aggressive than I thought it would be.”
After a few games, Seca became more comfortable with her new surroundings.
“Something just clicked,” Seca said. “I knew I had to do better and I did.”
O’Brien Romer said that Seca just took over and lived up to expectations.
“She’s been contributing a lot, both on and off the field,” O’Brien Romer said. “She has a great personality and work ethic. She’s a natural leader. She has all the intangibles you need. She also has great skills and can control the ball well. She handles the game gracefully. She plays with such grace and ease.”
Seca said that she changed her approach from the beginning of the season.
“I’m holding the ball more,” Seca said. “I’m shooting it when I get inside the 18 (yard line). That has definitely helped. I didn’t do that earlier in the year.”
The Vikings didn’t do a lot of winning early on either.
“We needed to get to a certain level of play to get into the (NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I) state playoffs,” O’Brien Romer said. “They had to prove that they belonged.”
Two weeks ago, the Vikings suddenly became a vastly improved team, with Seca leading the way. They went on a streak where they won four out of five games, including three wins over NJIC opponents (Weehawken, Becton/ Wallington and St. Mary’s of Rutherford) that the Vikings lost to earlier in the season.
One of the main reasons for the hot streak is the immense contributions from Seca, who has scored seven goals and added eight assists in those games.
Last week, Seca had three goals and two assists against Becton/Wallington, one goal and two assists against Weehawken and one goal and four assists against St. Mary’s.
For her efforts, Seca has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the last week.
O’Brien Romer is more than pleased with Seca’s performance.
“She’s made the other girls on the team around her much better,” O’Brien Romer said. “Not only is she a good player, but she makes the others better. She could develop into something really special. I’ve had a lot of girls come through the program over the years and Joanna could become one of the truly special ones.” O’Brien Romer put Seca in the same class as former standout Katie Mallack, who went on to play rugby at Sacred Heart University.
“She has a chance to be better, one of our very best,” O’Brien Romer said of Seca. “She has natural leadership qualities. She keeps her cool when other teams notice her and guard her. She’s a team player who is always looking to help the team win. She’s really been a great addition to our program.”
Seca likes the way she’s playing now.
“I thought I could play the same way I played in PDA, which is focused on passing,” Seca said. “I realized that it wasn’t working in high school. I can pass it, give it to someone else to shoot, but also get the chance to get it back. It’s working better. We’re winning. I definitely feel better about it.”
As for playing for North Arlington?
“I like it,” Seca said. “I like representing my school and getting to know the girls. It’s good to know that I have a good relationship with them on and off the field. It’s been really exciting. I’ve gained a lot of confidence so far and I hope it just continues.”
So does everyone involved with the North Arlington girls’ soccer program.