Ever since Denis Jelcic took over the Lyndhurst boys’ soccer program four years ago, there has been a continual climb toward respectability.
Last year, the Golden Bears posted a 16-9-1 record. They won their first round game in the Bergen County Tournament before falling to Bergen Catholic. And the Golden Bears won their first round game in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II playoffs before falling to Harrison in the second round.
Now, as everyone knows, it’s not a positive thing to lose to anyone, but it’s never a real bad thing to lose to the Crusaders or the imposing Blue Tide at anytime, never mind the county and state playoffs.
“It was the first time in 20 years that we won a game in both the county and state playoffs,” Jelcic pointed out.
So there is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about with the record or the ledger of the Golden Bears’ success.
But what Jelcic wants now is a level of sameness.
Jelcic has one code word to use this year: Consistency.
“It makes it easier to come back,” Jelcic said. “We don’t have to totally rebuild. We want consistency. We want to be able to play the entire year and then come back to the varsity league in the spring with a lot of the same players. That’s what we had this past spring. We had seven returning players.”
It means that Jelcic’s job this preseason has been much easier.
“Things are running much easier,” Jelcic said. “The seniors are ready to go. They know the drill. We want to continue on the same path, continue to get better. We want to keep the bar high. It’s hard to keep the bar high, but that’s what we want. The league we play in (the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Liberty Division) is so tough with a lot of returning players. It’s one of the top leagues in the state with Harrison.”
But Jelcic believes his team is ready for the challenge.
“I like this team,” Jelcic said. “They’re excited to play some quality soccer every day. They play every day and all day, 24/7. I drove by the field (the Lyndhurst Recreation complex) the other day and the lights were on and they were playing on their own. I love seeing that. They love playing and they really love each other.”
Jelcic said that his job as a coach has been made easier by the dedication of his older players.
“We have some great leaders,” Jelcic said. “I don’t have to organize much. And as you know, great leaders make for great teams.”
The Golden Bears are blessed to have senior striker Vincent DiTonto back for his final year. DiTonto, who was named Observer Athlete of the Week once last season, found the nets 19 times last year after scoring 13 as a sophomore.
“He’s looking the best he’s looked in his four years with us,” Jelcic said. “He’s such a hard worker.”
The Golden Bears don’t have a sure-fire starter in goal to start the season.
“It’s totally up in the air,” Jelcic said about a possible starting goalie. “We have about six kids battling for playing time. None of them have varsity experience, so that’s a little tough. But it has been interesting to watch.”
Among the six vying for time in net, sophomore Tyler Luizzi and senior Derek Santi appear to be the frontrunners. But there is still time before the Golden Bears’ opener on Sept. 8 against Leonia.
Defensively, the Golden Bears have some experience and some talent.
Mark DiMeglio is the senior sweeper with senior Dalton DePinto as the stopper.
“I like going with that formation, because they can be a little more reckless back there,” Jelcic said.
Also getting good looks among the Golden Bear backline players are juniors Matthew Martone and Jeff Tellefsen and freshman Dylan Sousa.
The Golden Bear midfield appears solid, with senior Adrian Baranowski returning at center midfield.
Baranowski, one of the top returning midfielders in the entire NJIC, had six goals and 17 assists last season.
“He is a good creator with the ball,” Jelcic said. “He also has excellent knowledge of the game.”
Another solid player in the Lyndhurst midfield is senior Anthony Oliveira.
Blessed with a solid left leg and good size, Oliveira had 12 goals and four assists last season.
“He has a powerful left leg,” Jelcic said.
Other returnees in the midfield include senior Luis Yolianes, junior Diego Soto and sophomore R.J. Alvarez. All three have the capability of scoring goals, making the Lyndhurst attack even more dangerous. The team isn’t all about DiTonto, but it’s not a bad place to start. DiTonto will draw his fair share of college coaches to Lyndhurst this fall to scout him for possible recruitment. No question, DiTonto is talented enough to play at the next level.
Sophomore Sean Santi joins DiTonto up front on the forward line to aid in the scoring punch.
Others vying for playing time include senior Manuel Juarez, sophomore Steven Cano and freshman Thomas Zurkowski, who can play either midfield or a forward slot. Zurkowski has the potential to become the next great Golden Bear offensive threat.
The Golden Bears won their first nine games last year, which helped the team gain confidence as well as lock up a berth in the Bergen County tournament.
“It’s always good to get off to a good start,” Jelcic said. “We then settled in. I like the step up that the program has made. We want to continue that. We want to keep feeding players into the system and keep winning. They know what’s expected of them.”
Needless to say, it’s a whole lot more than what was expected a few years ago.
The Lyndhurst boys’ soccer team won 16 games last year with the hope of continuing a rising trend over the last few years. Front row from left are Jeff Tellefsen, Santiago Gutierrez, Mark DiMeglio, Dalton DePinto and Matthew Martone. Back row, from left, are head coach Denis Jelcic, Blas Perez, Tyler Luizzi and Derek Santi. Photo by Jim Hague