By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
After finishing the 2013 season with an 18-2-1 record, the best in school’s history, Nutley High School girls’ soccer coach Mike DiPiano is looking for more of the same this year.
“We put a three-year plan into place and last year, we just sped up the process,” said DiPiano, who begins his third year as the head girls’ soccer coach at Nutley. “We beat four teams that played in a sectional final last year.”
The Maroon Raiders graduated 12 players and nine starters from last year’s team, including the 2013-14 Observer Co-Female Athlete of the Year Grace Montgomery.
“We worked on teaching the system to a new group of girls,” DiPiano said. “We have some seniors who have never played before. We have freshmen battling to play every day in practice. The competition has been good. We’re not taking the mentality that we’re rebuilding. We’re going after it again this year. Our goal is to play one more day than we did last year. That’s a reasonable goal with the team we have. We know what we have to do to get there.”
So far, the Maroon Raiders are living up to the challenge of being a state-ranked power.
The Maroon Raiders, ranked No. 20 in a New Jersey statewide poll, have won all four of their games so far, including a 7-0 whitewash of neighboring rival Belleville on Saturday.
“We want to be in the rankings and never come out,” DiPiano said. “It’s good for the entire athletic program at our school.”
The Maroon Raiders have one of the most potent scoring attacks in the state, thanks to returning standouts Victoria Kealy and Zoe Steck.
Kealy, a senior who has already given a verbal commitment to play at Rider University in the fall, scored 34 goals last year and is already on pace to top that number this season.
Kealy had three goals and added an assist in the win over Belleville.
Steck is a sophomore who scored 31 goals last year. She had two goals and two assists in the lopsided victory over Belleville.
“I don’t know of many teams to have that kind of luxury,” DiPiano said of his powerful scoring duo. “We just have to keep finding ways to get them the ball. It’s time for others to step up. It’s going to be a work in progress.”
The Maroon Raiders are utilizing two players in goal, namely senior Rachel Nichols and junior Sarah Roselli, who missed most of last season due to health issues.
The sweeper is freshman Lauren Holden, who has the potential to be a very good player.
“She’s going to have to learn on the fly,” DiPiano said. “She’s played already on some high level club teams, so she has experience. She is as tough as nails and doesn’t play like a freshman.”
The stopper is sophomore Darby Fischer, with senior Julie Fredericks, sophomore Angeli Bossbaly and freshman Jalae Small all seeing time along the back line.
Sophomore Jenny Callaghan is the team’s center midfielder. She’s a transfer who arrived at the school last year during the season, so Callaghan is basically a newcomer.
“She’s the real deal,” DiPiano said of Callaghan. “She has to be our playmaker in the middle of the field.”
Senior Kaitlyn Salisbury, junior Samantha Chimento and freshman Isabella Gonsiewski are also solid midfielders.
The Maroon Raiders will put their entire season on the shoulders of the two powerful scorers, namely Kealy and Steck, who are among the state’s very best.
As are the Maroon Raiders, who are proving that last year was no fluke.
Seniors Kiera Byrnes, Sarah Grueter and Samantha Moynihan will play roles on the team’s attack. Moynihan scored two goals in the win over Belleville.
Freshman Maise Jelley will be the Maroon Raiders’ resident jack-of-all-trades.
“She will play everywhere,” DiPiano said. “She’s done everything we’ve asked of her so far.”
DiPiano likes his team. He should. The Maroon Raiders are for real and will enjoy a great season into November. Whether that leads to a Super Essex Conference divisional title or an NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III crown remains to be seen. But either or both are not out of the question, thanks to having two returning 30-goal scorers.