By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
After being away from the game of high school basketball for a few years, veteran coach Rich Corsetto had no idea what to expect from his return to the sidelines, taking over the North Arlington High School program.
Corsetto, a veteran of coaching on the high school and more prominently the collegiate ranks, inherited a good squad when he arrived last year and the Vikings rewarded their new coach with a 20-win season.
The Vikings finished the season with a 20-8 record a year ago in Corsetto’s first campaign.
But can Corsetto expect more of the same success in his second go-round?
“It’s definitely a challenge,” said Corsetto, a member of the National Junior Colleges of America Hall of Fame. “We lost two starters and our sixth man. But we did go to the William Paterson team camp over the summer, played in the Kearny summer league and the Bloomfield fall league.”
Corsetto made his mark as the head coach at Hudson County Community College from 1990 through 1996. When that school dropped basketball, he moved on to become the head coach at Passaic County Community College from 1996 through 2010.
In 20 years as a college coach, Corsetto won 435 games. He also owns a gaudy 255-91 record on the high school level, so Corsetto has won a total of 690 games as a basketball coach over 33 years. With a little luck, Corsetto might reach the magical 700-win plateau this season.
However, luck hasn’t been kind to Corsetto thus far.
First, Mike Paolello, who was penciled in as the Vikings’ point guard, suffered a serious knee injury during the football season and will be lost for the season after undergoing knee surgery.
“That was a big loss,” Corsetto said.
Then, senior Edgar Carranza, who had some big moments for the Vikings last season, will start the season on the side lines for academic reasons.
“He has to clear some things up before he can come back,” Corsetto said. “He was a key rebounder for us last year.”
Corsetto doesn’t know how long Carranza will be out. He could be out until Jan. 1 or even longer.
“We’re hoping it’s sooner than that,” Corsetto said.
One of the key returnees is senior forward Jose Checo. The 6-4 Checo averaged eight points and 10 rebounds per game last year, but those numbers need to improve this season.
“He’s worked very hard in the offseason,” Corsetto said. “I think he’s ready to step up. He’s definitely improved. I’m expecting a lot from him. I’m hoping to see better production.”
Junior Kevin Cerqueira is a 5-11 forward with a lot of promise.
“He did a nice job for us last year,” Corsetto said. “He’s a good defensive player. He’s going to have to be more of a scorer this year. He’s worked very hard over the summer.”
Junior Stephen Velez is a 6-1 forward and strong inside player.
“He works hard on the glass,” Corsetto said. “He’s a good rebounder and he’s good around the basket.”
Junior Joe Morales is a 6-1 forward.
“Joe is a banger on the boards,” Corsetto said. “He’s an aggressive kid. He’s a garbage man in a good way.”
Senior Jonathan Hurley is another solid performer at guard. The 5-11 Hurley possesses a nice touch from the perimeter.
“We need him to make shots,” Corsetto said.
Timmy Ford is a 5-8 junior guard who can play either guard slot.
“He’s in good shape physically from playing football,” Corsetto said. “We have a number of kids who also played football. He’s a tough kid who helps us in a lot of different ways. He can also shoot the ball.”
Corsetto is very excited about freshman Isaac Aguilar, who stands 6-foot-5.
“I’ve been in basketball a long time and I haven’t seen many like this kid,” Corsetto said of the freshman. “He’s going to grow more. I think he’s going to get a chance to start right away. He can block shots and rebound. I think he’s a big-time player.”
Senior Anthony Rotondo is a solid 5-8 guard.
“He does some nice things for us and he can shoot the ball,” Corsetto said.
Dylan Brown is a 5-9 junior guard who also possesses a nice shooting touch from the perimeter.
Junior Darien Nogueras is a 5-9 guard who adds depth to the Vikings’ bench.
Corsetto believes that his team is a work in progress.
“I don’t think I’ll ever change my strategy as a coach,” Corsetto said. “If it works, don’t mess with it. We’re going to press and trap and try to run up-tempo. I’m a strong believer in defense. I think defense creates offense. That’s the reason why we won 20 games last year. I’m looking to do that again this year. We’re still going to press and we’re still going to play up-tempo. That’s what I’m familiar with.”
The Vikings tip off the season against St. Mary’s of Rutherford Dec. 19. The Vikings will also host the William Ferguson Holiday Classic Dec. 29-30, with Trinity Christian, Lenape Valley and Hoboken Charter in the field.