The Belleville High School boys’ soccer team enjoyed a great 2017 season, posting a 13-6-1 record and winning the Colonial Division championship of the Super Essex Conference.
Because of the Buccaneers’ success last season, they have been moved up to the more competitive Liberty Division.
It’s a move that does not bother second-year head coach Gary Polewka one iota.
“We feel like we belong in the Liberty,” Polewka said. “It’s where we want to stay. We don’t want to move down ever again. The kids are focused and ready. They don’t want last year to be the highlight of their careers.”
The Buccaneers lost a talented player in forward Ifeanyi Anaemejeh, who graduated after scoring 15 goals last season, and midfielder Josh Sanchez.
But the Bucs have enough talent returning to be competitive in their new division of the SEC.
“We feel like we’re very strong defensively,” Polewka said. “We’re strong especially with Fernando between the pipes.”
Fernando is senior goalkeeper Fernando Pesantes, who is clearly one of the best net minders in northern New Jersey. The athletic Pesantes can make any save imaginable.
“He’s more focused than he’s ever been,” Polewka said. “He knows that the competition will be tougher this year. But he’s solid back there. He’s more mature and more solid back there. I think a lot of how good we are will be how good he plays.”
The Bucs have a solid backup in senior Louis Diaz, who could probably start on most other teams, but bides his time behind Pesantes.
The sweeper is senior Isaac Cortes, who also returns from last year.
“He was our stopper last year, but we’ve moved him to sweeper and he’s owned it,” Polewka said. “He’s going to be the rock of the defense. He’s taken a hold of our defense and feels comfortable being the back end of the defense.”
The stopper is junior Lucas Fonseca, who was lost to injury last year, when he broke his jaw in a collision with his teammate in a practice.
“He’s real hungry this year, because he missed so much of last year,” Polewka said.
The other defenders are senior Angel Ramos, a three-year varsity player with a lot of speed, and senior Miguel Garcia. Both Ramos and Garcia played for the Buccaneers on their back line last year.
Senior Adriel Abreu is a key returnee to the midfielder corps. Abreu had five goals last season.
Senior Emilio Padilla scored three goals last year, but Polewka expects bigger numbers this year.
“He’s the most skilled ball handler we have,” Polewka said.
Junior Bryan Guarquila is also in the midfield, but more of a defensive minded midfielder.
Senior Kenny Real is a four-year starter who will add some scoring punch to the midfield.
Junior Kevin Manjarrez is the team’s top offensive weapon. Manjarrez knocked home 10 goals last year as a sophomore.
“He’s our only junior captain,” Polewka said. “He’s probably the best player on the team. He has great vision. I think some coach on the next level will take notice of what he can do. He’s pretty tall and has a strong leg. He’s also a very respectful kid.”
Junior Kevin Riera came out of nowhere last year and scored nine goals down the stretch, including the county tournament and state tournament.
“He just seems to find a way to get his shot off,” Polewka said.
Senior Anthony Cappiano is a former football player who decided to join the soccer team.
“He came over to play soccer and I thought he could help us,” Polewka said. “He’s a strong kid with a hard shot. He’s also fearless. He’s very hungry to make something of his senior year.”
Sophomore Jonathan Sanchez is also in the midfield and brings a lot of speed and agility to the position.
Polewka thinks that sophomore Christian Cumba’s future lies as a defender, but he’s been a skill position player from the start.
“I think he has a lot of potential as a defender,” Polewka said.
Freshman Jonathan Ruiz will see time as a midfielder. Polewka likes young Jonathan’s potential almost as much as he likes Cumba.
“He has a very bright future,” Polewka said of Ruiz.
The Bucs opened their season Tuesday against Linden and face Science Park of Newark later this week.
“We’re excited about the challenge of a new season,” Powelka said. “This is where we want to live and remain. I hope we contend for another title. We look forward to facing the speed in the Liberty Division. We played in the Montclair summer league, the Kearny Recreation summer league. We had some good tests over the summer. We know that there’s a step up. But we’re ready.”
The Belleville High School boys’ soccer team will look to improve on last year’s 13-6-1 record. The Buccaneers won the Colonial Division of the Super Essex Conference last year and hope to continue the success in the Liberty Division this year. Front row, from left, are Miguel Garcia, Bryan Guarquila and Angel Ramos. Back row, from left, are head coach Gary Powelka, Marcelo Vigiles, Fernando Pesantes, Luis Diaz, Isaac Cortes and Lucas Fonseca. Photo by Jim Hague